If you’ve seen anything in the news the past few months, you’ll know about the upheaval in the East surrounding the militant Islamic groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. Beheading and raping their way into worldwide recognition, they represent what is most deplorable in our world. Nothing struck dismay in the gut of the Church as the beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS. It stirred us to search out the imprecatory Psalms of David and cry out to God for justice on behalf of His Bride, like the prayers of the saints before the throne of God in Revelation 6:10.
We are in a dangerous place, and not because of ISIS. We are in danger of allowing our hearts to dictate a desire for a false justice that is very close to revenge. In times like this, when our blood is boiling, it is hard to remember Ezekiel 18:23. “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?”
We cannot say the same. We have pleasure when we see the wicked punished and destroyed. We’d love to see ISIS and the rest have their just deserts. We’ve been so quick to pray for fire to consume them and to reach for our guns that it hasn’t occurred to us to pray for Christ to be glorified. The desire of God is that “all should come to repentance” and that none “should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).
Here is a very unpopular truth, both among Christians and in the secular world: The problem isn’t Islamic terrorism. The problem is sin. The answer in the long term isn’t military action. The answer is Christ.
If we would be satisfied for every terrorist to lay down their arms, surrender and die, then we know nothing of the love of Christ and have lost much of what set us apart from the rest of the world. Christ Himself wouldn’t be satisfied with forcing us into submission, or burning us in Hell like we all deserve. He died, took away the things in us that condemned us, and adopted us. ISIS’s offence against us is nothing compared to our offence against God. And yet there is the Cross, covered in His blood. How could we dare do anything but hang our heads in shame at the way we’ve behaved towards sinners?
There will be a day of reckoning. Christ will descend with the cry of an archangel, and His robes will be soaked in blood. Every rape, every murder, every adulterous glance, and every lie will be dealt with finally. There will be no escape from the edge of that sword. That day will be so terrible that even the earth and heavens will try to hide. You and I will be there, either to answer for our rebellion or to enter into the joy of Christ’s kingdom. Will God be able to turn to us as the doors of Hell shut and say, “You prayed for this”? Would we be able to look one another in the eye? The very thing we deserved and were rescued from, yet found ourselves rejoicing in when it was dealt out to others.
There will be wars, persecution, and terrors until that day. But there is one thing that matters more: we will all die and face an inexorable Judge. Any mercy that comes from that courtroom will be because of Christ. We are no different that ISIS. They need the same Christ we need.
Yes, we pray for justice. We pray that wrongs will be made right. We take action to defend the defenseless and help the helpless. But when we pray for justice, let us also pray for mercy.