Everyone has been glued to news stations this week for updates on the Boston Marathon bombings. I’ve been scanning media and social media for news throughout the day today, and in addition to continued shock at this tragedy, I’ve been struck by all the comments I’ve seen about what should happen to the suspects. It seems that people are downright giddy that “justice has been served” – that one of the suspects has been killed. It seems that people are waiting until we can catch the other bad guy to see how we will dish up his punishment.
Please hear me when I say that I am not condoning or excusing violence. What happened in Boston was a sick tragedy. What happened should not have happened. Those that caused the bombings were wrong. I believe in justice.
But justice is not vengeance. It seems that people aren’t so much excited about justice as they are vengeance. It’s the whole, “he had it coming” “eye for an eye” “he deserves death” mentality that has me concerned. I’m concerned for my fellow Christ-followers who get excited about pursuing the bad guys and bringing down the enemy.
Truthfully, I’m concerned that Christ-followers have enemies at all. Maybe they aren’t outright labeled as “the enemy”, or “the bad guy”, but I’ve seen a clear us vs. them, good vs. evil mentality among Christians. I know Christians who have identified a person, or a group of people, or a nation, or a religion, or an ethnicity as “the enemy”. I remember first recognizing this enemy talk after 9-11. I’ve heard it through subsequent wars and tragedies, and I’m hearing it a lot today.
It alarms me that Christians are so caught up in catching the bad guys and getting them what they deserve because that isn’t the message of Jesus. In fact, Jesus countered this mentality very clearly in Matthew 5.
Jesus starts out the passage with the famous beatitudes when he brings his shocking turnaround blessings – Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the persecuted, blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. He then goes on to call his followers to be salt and light to the world – He tells his followers to bring flavor and brightness to a dull and dark place. Then He confounds the religious rule-followers by getting past the laws and to the issues of the heart.
And then it starts to get real real:
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It’s hard to love our enemies – be they personal or societal. It’s hard to pray for those who cause violence to the innocent. But we Christ-followers have signed onto this as part of following Christ. We have chosen to follow Him into confusion, into sadness, into the unknown of what it means to pray for and love those that have caused wrong. It doesn’t mean that we excuse behavior, but it means that we trust our Just God who says that vengeance is His, not ours (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
God is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18). We are not the gods of justice. In fact, the majority of Biblical references to God’s people pursuing justice are around the issues of securing justice for the poor (Lev 19:15, Deut 27:19), Prov 29:7, Is 1:17, Is. 10:1-2, Mic 6:8), not securing justice for criminals.
The truth is, if we really believe that Christ died for our sins, and that through His death and resurrection we are redeemed and we can be restored, then we have to believe that not just for us, but for everyone. And that everyone includes those who have committed the unthinkable and those who don’t deserve it – because the very deepest truth is that we don’t deserve it either.
We were once enemies – enemies of God (Romans 5), but through grace that we didn’t deserve, God offered mercy. So, we, the recipients of mercy, ought to offer it as well to both neighbor and enemy.
Justice is good. Keeping our cities and nations safe is good. Vengeance, however, is not ours, and it certainly shouldn’t be our goal. I have a sneaking suspicion, that if Christ-followers got on board with this whole ‘loving our enemy thing’, we would bring a salt and light to the world that hasn’t been there before. Jesus spread His message by living so radically different than the rest of society; through spending time with questionable people, through spreading grace not anger, through forgiving and restoring criminals (even one next to him on the cross during his crucifixion) – shouldn’t we be doing the same?