Sometimes life is like the movies. Sometimes, in the midst of a culture where the “bad guy” is just someone who disagrees with our political view, or who cheers for an “evil” sports team (Like Manchester United) we actually see real “bad guys”.
Since my last article, we’ve all been introduced to a few new bad guys: Dr. Kermit Gosnell, whose barbarism is straight out of a horror movie, and the cowards who set off two bombs amidst crowds of civilians at the Boston Marathon.
And, as I laid my head down last night, I did something that I do every night. I prayed for every single “bad guy” that I heard about that day. I’ve done this for a few years and the media is diligent in ensuring that I hear about what seems to be an endless stream of evil.
I prayed for Kermit Gosnell.
I prayed for the those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombs.
I recently received hate mail over this issue asking “How could you?”. So, here’s my response.
I pray for them because I love them.
(More accurately, I’m trying hard to love them because Jesus has told me to. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I fight hard not to *hate* them. But, man, I’m trying!)
Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, andsends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV)
But Marc, you don’t get it. These guys are EVIL! How can you love them? How are you OK with their horrific acts? Come to think of it, why would Jesus want me to love or pray for people like this? Does loving them mean that we are OK with them? Forgiving them?
Let me make it crystal clear: I’m absolutely NOT OK with what they did. As I pray for the “bad guys” I pray for their victims. I also pray for those who are responsible for bringing them to justice, from the Law Enforcement Officers and Investigators to the Prosecutors and Judges. And, if necessary, our brave men and women serving in the military. I pray that the full weight of the government be brought down on the very people for whom I’m praying.
“Love your enemies”
That sentence creates complete confusion and conflict in my human mind. Love… Enemies. The two are at complete odds. Love my neighbor Jesus? Yeah, I get that. Love an Enemy? That doesn’t work for me. They are my enemy because they’ve done something horrible or hurt me directly. No, that won’t do. I can’t make it jive. It forces me to work with one of the terms. Maybe the problem is with the “love” part, maybe it doesn’t mean real love, just forgiveness… or tolerance. But that doesn’t work based on how we see Jesus own example of sacrificial love and our call to love others as ourselves. Maybe the problem is enemy? Maybe I’m supposed to be OK with what they’ve done to become my enemy, or just explain it away. No.. that doesn’t work either. How does this work?!?
Isn’t that contradictory? How can I love (or try to) and pray for them while praying that they are punished?
Because scripture has helped me understand 4 things:
1. Who GOD is.
2. Who WE are.
3. Who I am.
4. Who THEY are.
Who God is:
In a word, sovereign. There wasn’t a single act or thought by either Gosnell or the bombers that escaped God’s eye. So while we know that God didn’t stop it, we also know that justice will, ultimately, be done. In God’s sovereignty, He has called Gosnell, the bomber, you and I to repent and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sin, under which we are all guilty. In His sovereignty, God has also called us in faith to love our enemies. So, by faith I understand that I’m called simply to love my enemies and have faith that God’s justice is sure.
Who WE are:
My human nature wants to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. I follow the rules. I don’t kill people. I’m a good guy, right? Bad guys? Kermit Gosnell for sure. And the bombers? Absolutely. The problem is that scripture makes it clear that I don’t get to compare others to myself and find myself not guilty. I’m forced to compare myself to the perfect holiness of God. I fail. I’m Guilty. So the “we” includes everybody. Me, you, Kermit Gosnell. All guilty, before the highest court, of the greatest crime.
Who I am:
Forgiven. Though I’m guilty, and have done absolutely nothing which would deserve it, God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven me. Being saved by grace through faith in Christ, I am now freed to see myself as a sinner forgiven by grace of sinning against a perfect, Holy God. As such, I am reasonably called to love and forgive others… no matter how “undeserving” they might be. I love the undeserving because I was loved by one much greater than I, being even more undeserving.
Who am I? I am God’s own, purchased by the blood of Christ. Yet, I live in this fallen world where I’m confronted with true evil. With “bad guys”. How do I call for their judgement without becoming self-righteous, while still keeping in view the grace that was extended to me and which I pray that is extended to these bad guys? How do I pray for them to be punished, to the fullest extent of the law and still live out my call to love them? By understanding….
Who THEY are:
Since we are all fallen in sin and unworthy of God’s saving grace, we can’t define “us” as the good guys and “them” as the bad guys. So, who are “they”?
They are those who God has charged with enforcing His justice in this fallen world.
Stick with me here, because it’s going to be a shift in thought for many of you.
There are, in effect, Two Kingdoms. For ease of understanding we’ll call them Heavenly and Earthly. The first thing to understand is that ALL men are part of the earthly kingdom, but God has called, bought, and set apart His people (Christians throughout the world) to a Heavenly kingdom.
The challenge? Even though we are citizens of this Heavenly Kingdom, we live here, temporarily, in the Earthly Kingdom. Where God once fed men directly from heaven via Manna, he now feeds us through farmers and ranchers, butchers and bakers. More to the point, where God once directly consumed men though fire and brimstone, God now uses earthly rulers and governments. This is why the church doesn’t still stone people (that’s the role of the Earthly Kingdom) , and why we don’t open our pulpits as political platforms. (preaching is the role of the Heavenly Kingdom)
If we err on one side, we end up turning our back on the state of the world with a shrug since “We’re just passing through.” This would be an error as we are called to love and serve our neighbor. If we err in this way, we see the heinous acts of Gosnell and the bombers as not impacting us much since we’re just passing though. Think of this as the priest and the Levite walking past the man on the road to Jerusalem in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
If we err on the opposite direction, we feel the need to theocratically run our nation, or we see America as a “Christian Nation” of covenant like that of ancient Israel. We see the USA as “God’s side”. The problem with that view is that the heavenly kingdom crosses geographic lines. While I seek to be a good citizen and work for the good of my nation (and yes, VOTE), I realize that I have a greater eternal connection to my Christian brother in an “enemy” country than to many in my own country. If we confuse the two kingdoms, when confronted with evil, we see it as our job, personally, to rage against Gosnell and the bombers. Think of this as someone murdering a Dr. working at an abortion clinic.
Understanding that my primary role is that of a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom frees me to my primary calling: To proclaim the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins to all men everywhere.
By understanding that God has put institutions and men in place to administer His justice here on earth frees me to allow them to work.
So, can a Christian both pray for and love Gosnell and the bombers and seek their justice? I’ll raise the stakes… I submit that a Christian could both pray for Gosnell and the bombers, and literally execute them if he were the prison employee tasked to do so.
In essence, fulfilling their duties in the Heavenly Kingdom by loving and praying for their neighbor or enemy, and fulfilling their duty (if tasked) on the Earthly Kingdom by doing their job as a Police Officer, Detective, Prosecutor, Judge, Juror, Prison Warden, or Executioner.
But, as someone completely outside of the justice system, my role is not to investigate, prosecute, imprison, punish, or execute them in word or deed. In fact, my role as defined in scripture above is to love them. I’ll pray for them, their victims, and for those who God has put into power to carry out their vocations.
Loving Kermit Gosnell and the Boston Bombers is offensive. It’s over the top. It’s Gospel.