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1 John, ISIS and the Gospel versus Terror

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love each other. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother… We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
– 1 John 3:11-12, 14-15.

Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you so angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
– Genesis 4:6-8

I have been afraid lately. I think often about the deaths of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, many more journalists and millions of children, women, fathers, brothers, best friends, uncles and neighbors in Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan and more. I can’t shake the feeling that death is crouching around the corner, at the doorstep of all the journalists, of all the civilians, of too many people who have become dear to me and thousands more that I’ve yet to meet. Everyone I know is scarred. Some are still bleeding. Hate and fear are in the air, and things are getting worse.

How do Christians respond to terrorism? My church answers falter. “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” OK, but really? What if I were Iraqi or Syrian or Gazan? What if the Islamic State crucified my father? What if an Israeli bomb blew my family into pieces? What if everyone I loved was hit with chemical weapons? I meet person after person for whom this is reality. I wonder what I can say to them. I write down their stories. I cry. I want to vomit. I turn to God.

A few weeks ago I was reporting in Lebanon. I walked through Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps where people are treated like dogs, drinking tea with the most dignified and brave families I have met, fearing they would not survive the next month. I heard stories of those they have lost in the last few years, months and days. I filled notebooks with sorrow. Then I came home. I prayed angrily because I felt so tiny. The world is Dark and I can’t do anything about it. I have no power. I can write. What else? Why am I so small? Why can’t I save my friends? What do I have to give them?

A thought came into mind: You have the Gospel, habibti. 

Me: WHAT GOOD IS THAT?

Dear friends, help me figure this out.

What is the Gospel? What good is it? What does it mean to share Jesus Christ with my friends when His message does not promise any change in their physical circumstances? Here is Jesus, but you’ll still be a refugee. Your country continues to burn. Your daughter is still sick. You have no money for her treatment. She may die. Your father has already died. You may be killed tomorrow.
Here is Jesus.
What does He promise?
Who is He?
What does He do?

I’m reading the Bible a lot these days. The more I read, the more radical it looks. It says: God made the world and loved His children, but they turned against Him. They would not believe He loved them and they wanted to take control. When that happened, everything went awry. The children started to hate, fear, and kill. They hurt each other. They hurt themselves. God hurt to see this. He asked His kids to listen, to turn back, but they wouldn’t.

So God came to earth. Jesus was God-turned-man, living to set an example and to save us from ourselves. He died. He gave up life even though He was innocent, and this paid for all mankind to find eternal life, which means life together with God, which means complete change, which means living in love rather than hate or fear.

Love, rather than hate or fear.
Love: self-sacrifice, thinking of others before ourselves, giving up breath and life for the good of people who want us to die.
Love: refusing to hate. Not fearing anyone or anything except for God. Crying out for justice, but leaving it in His hands.
Love: living our brief and uncertain lives in total humility, surrender and desire to bless those who hate us.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
– 1 John 3:16-18

Those tropes about love are so warm-fuzzy-familiar. I’ve seen them cross-stitched onto comfy Christian pillows, stenciled on greeting cards and thrown around in a thousand Sunday sermons.

I’m sitting here watching a video made by fellow human beings just a few hours away from me. There’s a man in an orange suit kneeling on the floor next to another man in a hood, who makes his brother speak words he doesn’t mean. He calls on huge world powers to change, crying, “This is unfair, I am a victim, you are bad, I am good, I will punish you now,” and then the hooded man cuts off his brother’s head.

I think about Cain and Abel.
I think about Jesus.
I’m thinking, Christianity means I should lay down my life for this hooded man?
I’m thinking, That does not make sense.

I read the Bible more.

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
– Luke 22:29-51

Jesus died for Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, Isaac and Ishmael, David and Saul, journalists and extremists, Christians and Muslims, Jews and Gentiles, for the sick and the sicker, for all.

Lately I’ve found the Gospel a shocking, lunatic message. If you take Christ at His Word, this is what He says: Lay down your life for your brother. Lay down your life for the one who wants to kill you. Do not fight. Do not run away. Bless, serve and give.

According to Jesus, that’s the way to eternal life.
But I might die, I think.
Yes – lay down your life and be reborn, Christ says.
Me: NO, but like, I might physically die.
Christ: You’ll die anyway. It’s OK.
Me: No! I won’t! Who says I’m dying? Who says Death is real?
Christ: Look around.

Somehow as I pray, I am convinced that God is for us, not against us. The world is on fire, but it’s because we are against ourselves. Surrendering to God means self-sacrifice, not jihad, not struggle, not fighting our enemies the Muslims and Jews and infidel non-believers, but thinking: God is worth more than my life.

Fundamentalists think the same thing, but Christ redirects the results. If God is worth more than my life, then I die. I give my whole life as He did: not as a warrior, but as a sheep. He did not fight. We are not to fight. We are to give our entire lives to our brothers and sisters so that they do not feel alone, so that they have hope, so that we walk steadily into Darkness to take people’s hands and tell them, We have one Father. He loves us. He is good.

I would think this entirely crazy if I had not met Christians here who live it out in steady, fearless humility. I sit with brothers and sisters from Sudan, Syria, Iraq, places falling apart and families that attacked them when they decided to follow Christ. I wonder why they are not running away. Praise God, I’m going back! they say.

I am so easily scared. I fear danger. I fear death. I fear persecution for being American or Christian or a journalist. I fear terror itself.

My brothers and sisters spill over with light and peace. I want to hold them back. I am afraid they will be hurt or killed today, tomorrow or the day after. They laugh and lay a hand on my shoulder. Sister, my family needs hope.
What, the family that wants to kill you?
Sister, my people are trapped. They cannot leave. They need hope, and we have the one and only Hope. We’ve got to go and serve.

My Palestinian brothers tell me that they can and will continue to pray for all their neighbors, Muslims Jews and Christians, radical or not, Zionist or Hamas, even as they are being bombed from one side and targeted by the other. They tell me, this is what it means to follow Jesus: to suffer for your neighbor’s good, and your neighbor includes every person no matter if they hate or love you.

My Coptic friends in Egypt say, someone tried to burn down our church. But we will not take up arms to fight.

My Iraqi sister says, I am going back. ISIS is there, yes, which means people are afraid. Everyone is desperate. Our world is burning. So we need Christ. So I’m going.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.
– 1 John 4:18-19

I think, why am I so hesitant to speak the name of Jesus? On the one hand, I care too much about my reputation. I don’t want to be associated with close-minded Christians and the institutions that have perpetrated so much hate and bigotry throughout the ages. I don’t want to be judged. I am afraid for my public image, my career and my ostensible objectivity.

On the other hand, I am thinking too much of myself and not enough of Christ.

When I really think of Him, He says, Look at me. I look. I blink. I am almost blinded. I am moved. I fall to my knees. I think, this is too bright to be true, too much to hold, too deep and fiery – I am moved out of my mind.

I look.
He says, Every person is your brother.
Love them.

Lay down your life for them.
As I did for you.
I love you so much.
I am for you, not against you.
Your life is in my hands.

I believe.
Against all odds, I believe. I see my brothers and sisters going forward and I pray, Lord, give me the faith to walk alongside them. I see them going forward as sheep to the slaughter. I pray, Lord, give me grace and courage to do the same.

The Gospel offers a call to die, not to take anyone down but to lift them up. To give our lives up in peace and sacrifice and brotherly love. It is not sane. It is utterly unsafe, flying against all my self-righteous inclinations. But that is Christ, and we love Him so, for He first loved us.

When we see and know and taste this, we walk forward with joy. We are walking on a stream of living water that flows from Him in and through us. It grows trees with fruit in all seasons and leaves for the healing of the nations. We are so alive! Even if we may die today or tomorrow. We live in light.

We are not afraid.

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41 thoughts on “1 John, ISIS and the Gospel versus Terror”

  1. There were a few nights last week I went to sleep in tears because my heart was reawakened to the reality that Christ is making all things new!! and He is coming soon!! He is healing the nations!! Thank you for this beautiful piece, Alice.
    The following is copied from john stott’s devotional guide on rev 21-22, which gives life to words we hear too often:
    Christian disciples are characterized by faith, hope and love. Faith apprehends the *already* of christ’s achievement. Hope looks forward to the *not yet* of his salvation. And love marks our life *now* in the meanwhile.

  2. I am struck by the Arab Christian leaders’ responses to the tragedies around them – not responses of hatred but responses of opportunity: in tragedy we have the opportunity to live out the message of the Gospel in word and deeds. The little known news of the contemporary Middle East is the number of people from a majority background who in their disillusionment with their own leaders and the love they have received from Christian believers have discovered Jesus and his Gospel. A local Christian friend said to me recently: In order for the Church to understand the Bible it needs to be persecuted. The question then becomes, how can Western Christians stand alongside our Arab brothers and sisters at this time.

  3. Thank you, Alice, this is amazing, bringing clarity where all meaning seems to be lost. Thank you for your example, and for your eagerness to share the stories of your brothers and sisters in the Middle East, their love for Christ and their neighbour, their sacrifice.

  4. May God bless you in abundance, and shine his warm light down on your face. May you feel Him near and close, flooding you with His presence, love, and peace.

    You have spoken a truth that not all will understand. Few do, they feel it, they know it. They have a compelling desire to live for the one true God, fully – not lacking anything. Submitting to His ways, loving as He loves. Compelled to share the good news, even if it brings us into dangerous places. Love casts out fear.

    I know more than a few, many of my brother’s who would be extremely quick to grab a knife, a sword, a gun. To protect their loved ones, their family. No second thoughts, no a moment to lose. It’s “God’s will” they say. He calls us to protect our family, they believe. Even I, most days.

    Yet, this post, challenges all of that. Not so much because of you, and what you have written, but more so because you shared a truth, that is not smeared with religion, instead it is a truth from the throne of our God. A truth we all know too well, because it is encoded in our genes, burned in our DNA. And now, being confronted with it we must either disagree in disbelief and denial, or face it – accept its truth bearing weight, and rejoice.

    May you Be Blessed Alice, for the rest of your days, and may you find an inexpressible joy of living for God – no matter where He leads you. Love casts out fear.

    Blessings!

  5. Thanks for sharing this, you reflected on many sentiments of mine. I’m living in your region – I’d love to meet you and hear more of your experiences. I’d be grateful if you sent me an email and I can share what the Lord has been teaching me in the ME.

  6. You have helped me sort out what Christ is calling me to do when faced with evil. The passage where He told his disciples to buy swords, then when they had them in the garden, he basically demonstrated that they were not to be used, and healed the damage one did. I am still puzzled about why he asked for the swords, but maybe that was the message: don’t resist evil even though you have the means to. Love is more powerful. Persecution of the sort you describe has not come to my neighborhood, but at least l may know how to counteract the hate talk.

  7. I have to point out one difference in what you have shared that is not made in what you have shared. I have lived in Israel for many years and have jewish and Arab friends and whilst I agree on the gospel of peace and love through Jesus and all you said there I have to mention the differences in the conflicts you bring up. You talk of the Israeli bombs (and we are talking about national issues here), they were in response to indiscriminate missiles ….. Thousands that have been lobbed from Gaza that could easily have caused devastation… (I know of miracles) not for want of trying. Also, launching sites in hospitals, schools ….. Children hung on walls of buildings by their clothes on hooks to protect those buildings. Of celebration of a people of the death of three teenagers on one side and the horror of the death of one when it was realised that a group of their own that had done it by the other nation on the other side…..all of which was witnessed by me…..so please do not try to compare the actions or principles of Israel with that of terrorist organisations……yes mourn death and loss of life….hatred, where ever it is and celebrate those who reach out to help from the people on both sides.

  8. What is ” moderation “? If that means you will be responding, I am happy to get some clarification. How should we then live in a world where even some Christians believe we should ” nuke those Muslims and turn their countries into parking lots. “? Somehow l’m sure that is not the godly response to terrorism. Yet we in rural Michigan have no experience to compare to what these refugees are going through. What can we do to help?

  9. It is not the time to have theological discussion or debate.
    As the Arabic proverb say the the hunter is entertaining himself and the bird is being grilled. الصياد بتسلي والعصفور بتقلي. It is not hard for you as you said it is hard for them in the midst of it all.
    It is time to do something about. We have a responsibility to our suffering brothers and sisters. I wonder what would have happened to Europe without the D day or the end of Slave trade without Wilberforce or Abraham Lincoln civil war or civil rights for African Americans in the US without Dr. Martin Luther…. Or the people of God without Esther.
    This why Paul did not want to be acquitted without the apology of the Judges. This why he appealed his case to Caesar.
    If the church is quite about injustice it will be marginalized. The church will be a corpse and it will stink because it will be a body without spirit as James said.

    1. Just remember that our weapons are not the weapons of this world. Where would this world be without the American civil war? Who knows? What did the civil war accomplish? Little. The blacks are still not free. To wit: Ferguson.

  10. This is the Command of Christ Jesus: to love all people, including, and especially our enemies, for it is too easy and natural to love our family and friends, but, only by the power of the Spirit of our Heavenly Father, through Christ Jesus, may we really love our enemies. The modern American church movement teaches conditional love and selective Grace, and they falsely promote nationalism and try to blend it into the true faith in the Kingdom of God and Heaven. But, like clay and iron, at the feet of the final empire, it cannot withstand the mighty truth of Christ Jesus, and Jesus will break this false foundation of worldly power and violence and oppression that has been mingled with the truth of Christ Jesus and His mighty eternal Kingdom, that we who truly love and serve Jesus, are citizens of.
    Time is running out, the Age of Grace, the Church Age, the time of the Gentiles, is quickly coming to an end and the 70 week of Daniel’s prophecy will begin the moment this age ends.
    If you choose to follow Christ Jesus, you will be judged by how you followed Him, and how you obeyed His commands.
    Jesus commands you to love all of his created children as your brothers and sisters, and to help all people in need, not just people you identify with.
    To forgive, love, care for, bless, and do no harm, to every single human brother and sister on our temporary home planet.
    Jesus has commanded you to go out and give the Good News of Christ Jesus, the true Gospel of peace and love and forgiveness and Grace, to all of His created children.
    You and I are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God and Heaven, and our very existence, our actions and words, is our testimony and witness to all people, and if we misrepresent Jesus and His message, we will be held accountable.
    Choose today whom you will serve: Jesus, the name above all names, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the creator of all things, the only way to inherit eternal life, or…
    Satan, the temporary god of this world and it’s system of power and wealth.
    Jesus said you must love one: His Kingdom, and hate the other: Satan’s worldly kingdom, all systems of power within all governments, corporations, and religions.
    As for me, I choose to love, follow, and serve, Christ Jesus, and hate, renounce and reject Satan and his pitiful, temporary worldly kingdom.
    Jesus is coming back very soon to take back His Planet from Satan, and set up His eternal Heavenly Kingdom.
    May today be that day.
    In the beautiful, mighty name of our Lord God, King and Saviour; Christ Jesus, I pray: Amen, Hallelujah, Peace, and Maranatha.
    Yes, Maranatha Jesus!

  11. thankyou for the prose / article! all i can say is i live in winnipeg mainitoba canada and am a born again christian and i fall utterly sooo short compared to the persecuted christians -i dont even try too hard to witness in my public housing apartment block. i am a single frail older lady who’s afraid of some of these people . i know my heart has grown cold and i need mercy , filling of Jesus Spirit and power of God but most of all God’s grace! i think i would get the grace if i stepped out but none of us can manufacture grace from God =it is ”unmerited” please pray for me Barbara to start to ”be available to God , to step out and for God to open the door for evangelism. help me pray oh God break my heart for these ones that are dying in my midst without you!

    1. Barbara, you and me are kindred spirits. Let us lift the veil of fear from our lives and let our light shine as we walk with the master . Love and peace John

  12. I don’t disagree, entirely, with your thoughts written here. I do encourage you to read and study 1 John a bit more and understand exactly what he meant by the word “brother”. My brother is not everyone. My brother and sister are those within the family of God through Christ. My is most definitely someone I sacrifice for, no matter what. My “neighbors” are those outside of my divine family and I pray for them faithfully and minister to them to the best of my abilities, but ultimately they are in the hands of God.
    We, as children of God, are absolutely to have an assurance and a peace that surpasses all understanding and 1 John 5:1-5 addresses this very thing, as does Phil. 4:4-9 and Eph. 2:13-22. The battle has been won for those who are in Christ Jesus.
    As for grace and mercy we are to show that to all people all of the time as we have been shown grace and mercy. What we are not to lose sight of is the Sovereignty of God and His divine providence.

  13. The courage and forgiveness of our brothers and sisters all over the world is astonishing. Most Americans will never know what it truly means to live the words of Christ, to feel the urgency, to live so radically and counter-culturally. In the eyes of these people we are blessed to see perfectly reflected, the love of Christ. Yes, to live unafraid. Let us live this way.

  14. For all the Bible tells us to love others, it is not a completely pacifist text. Romans 13:4 (ESV) says “for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

    As someone going into Law Enforcement, and has studied counterterrorism, I firmly believe that terrorists must be stopped. And it is the responsibility of those in authority to act to protect the innocent, by stopping the guilty. And for most terrorists, the only way to stop them is to kill them. I don’t think that’s un-Biblical in any way. Yes, the Bible tells us to love others, and be willing to die for our faith. But if Islamic terrorists had their way, they’d murder most of the world and rule in oppression over the rest. They are evil, and evil must be resisted. We have a right and responsibility to do so. We can love our enemies, forgive them, give them a chance to repent and live peacefully, and if that fails, put a bullet in them.

    Many may disagree with me, and that’s fine. But in the face of evil such as ISIS, to be passive is to condemn thousands of innocents to death, both Christian and not. I’ll kill evil men before I allow innocents to die, particularly if they’re unsaved, but even if they’re saved.

  15. A real conundrum. I have read Eric Metaxes book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All the love in the world would not have stopped Hitler. Somewhere, sometime, a line must be drawn. God certainly was not a pacifist. When there was evil, He struck it down.

  16. Interesting article but can someone answer a legitimate theological question? Can the persecuted escape? Peter ran out of prison with the help of an angel, Paul was let down in a basket once, in 70ad Jesus followers took off based on warnings given on the mount called Olivet….
    Do we have to wait around to get our heads chopped off?

  17. This post was so beautiful it brought me to tears and challenged me to my core. Thanks for the reminder, it is so hard not to get angry and want to fight for them. Sometimes I forget that we have to love even the really really bad guys.

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