Christians are often put in positions where they have to walk a fine line.
The Christian is asked to walk the fine line of rejecting sin but receiving sinners. He’s taught to honor God above all yet rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. The believer is to both do justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8), a very fine line. Followers of Jesus Christ walk in the paradox that they are in the world but not of the world (John 17:11-16). The Christian must find balance in the principle that all things are lawful but not all things are expedient (1 Cor. 10:23).
Living for Christ is to walk a fine line.
This week offered Christians an opportunity to walk one of those fine lines. It was infuriating and difficult to watch the attacks and political posturing as our embassies and public servants were attacked in over a dozen nations in the Muslim world. Our flag was torn and burned, our embassies were attacked and one ambassador was murdered and his body dragged through the streets.
It was a stark contrast between nations and particularly between faiths. Islam, which revolts and turns to rage and violence if their sacred texts and revered leader is insulted and Christianity, which has the insult and murder of our Lord at its center.
Pastor Brian Zahnd stated on Twitter, “The enraged Libyan screaming, “Death to America!” and the angry American posting, “Bomb Libya!” – they’re the same soul.” The gospel demands that Christians honor their citizenship in the Kingdom of God before their citizenship on Earth.
It reminded me of the responses I saw after the reported capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden. President Obama announced in May of 2011 that a covert team of Navy Seals had killed Osama Bin Laden. After almost 10 years of evasion the mastermind behind the attacks of 9/11 was brought to justice.
As an American I find his death a relief. My hope is that the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks can find some manner of closure and rest in his capture and death. I am proud of our troops and honor their service. In my opinion, the United States as well as the entire world, is better off without his evil influence.
That’s my opinion of the matter as an American. My opinion of the matter as a Christian is a little different.
As a Christian, I believe justice was served. Scripture teaches that those in power do not carry a sword in vain but they are the ministers of God to execute wrath of those who do evil (Romans 13:4). In other words the Navy Seals don’t carry an M4 Carbine for show. They’ll use it if you cross the line. However, I also believe that hell is real and that when an evil man dies his soul will go there.
The line the Believer is asked to walk is to celebrate justice and yet acknowledge the sobering reality of hell.
I was shocked as I read some comments made by Christians on Facebook and Twitter. Many of them celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden with comments like, “He’s sharing a room in hell with Hitler now.” and “I bet he was disappointed when he found out hell doesn’t have virgins.”
I’m afraid that many Christians, at times, allow their patriotism to override their faith. Some even equate being an American with being a Christian. They are not the same. Christians must, not extinguish, but moderate their celebration of justice with a sober belief in a real hell. To promote one over the other is unbalanced.
I am happy for America that OBL is gone but there is a greater truth that animates my life. That truth includes a belief in a literal hell that is nothing to celebrate.
To celebrate in the death and eternal judgment, even of an enemy, simply doesn’t balance with the New Testament Christian ethic. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ”Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Singer Bruce Cockburn said, “Everybody wants to see justice done, to someone else.”
I recognize that America is not a religious institution and can deal out justice however it sees fit. However, as a Christian living in America my first concern needs to be the Kingdom of God and that filter will not allow me to see returning violence for violence as a just alternative. Leaving vengeance in the hands of God is an act of faith. It tells God that you believe He is better at justice than you are.
Romans 13:1-7 lets us know that God has given us human government. He has also deputized human governments to carry the sword and to level justice to those who would do evil. It is an extension of His will to see justice done on the Earth. So it is perfectly legitimate, according to scripture, for our nation to act out of a concern for justice and to deal with those whose actions result in death and evil.
Our faith must temper everything in our lives, including our patriotism. It will not always be easy, but it is the calling of all Christians to walk the fine line between our human loyalties to family and nation and our ultimate loyalty to Jesus Christ.
I pray God gives us grace to do so humbly and prayerfully.