The news regarding the beheadings of the 21 *Coptic Christians is quite disturbing. I don’t even have the stomach to watch the videos. The photos which accompany the many articles on the internet and also the front page stories of newspapers at local stores, are very hard to even just quickly glance at. Many different things go through my mind when I see them. Even though I prayed for their families, as a result of dealing with such losses, most of my thoughts are actually selfish.
Sadly, my first inclination is to put myself in their predicament, and wonder how I would handle it. I also think about how scary and painful it must have been. In the pictures, they all seem so calm. They don’t even look scared. I also thought about the satisfaction I had inside, knowing that the Egyptian Air Force had made a retaliation air-strike against Libya, where the executions took place.
JUSTICE WAS SERVED!!
It made me feel so much better.
But this got me thinking. I started asking myself some probing questions:
“Why, in the midst of knowing about such evil, am I thinking about myself? Also, why am I feeling a sense of satisfaction with the retaliations carried out by the Egyptian Government?”
My focus had been in the wrong place. It was on… myself… when it should have been on God.
Why was I celebrating inside for the justice carried out by man (the Egyptian Air Force)? After all, there have been reports of innocent people being killed as a result of the retaliatory air strikes, no? I mean, such is nothing to celebrate. And, why am I also frustrated at what seems to be a general indifference by man (our current administration here in the United States), to also carry out some form of justice as well?
Maybe, there are some better questions to ask myself:
“Why am I not trusting in God to judge it all, instead of man? And where are my pleading prayers to God, asking Him to grant repentance to the executioners, so that they might be saved?”
After all, are they (the executioners) really any different than the Apostle Paul (who was Saul prior to his conversion)?
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Ok, I did pray for the victims’ families, but other than that, I was really just basking in my own selfishness. I wasn’t really concerned about the souls of the executioners, nor was I trusting that God will one day impart a final judgement on all things. I was more concerned with how I would handle being in their shoes (sorta speak), and I was also relishing in man’s justice… instead of God’s future one.
Back in 2006, Pastor Timothy Keller gave a sermon series called “The Trouble with Christianity: Why it’s so Hard to Believe”. In that series he made the following point, based on the the book “Exclusion and Embrace”, by Croatian, Protestant theologian and public intellectual, Miroslav Volf:
“Miraslov Volf says, as a Croatian… he had first hand experience and acquaintance with the terrible violence in the Balkans. And there, he saw people going on for years, and years, and years locked into a cycle of vengeance and retaliation. ‘You did this to us? We’re going to do this to you…’, ‘You did this to us? We’re going to do this to you…’ But he says in his book, that a cycle of retaliation is not fueled by a belief in a God of judgement, but it is fueled by a LACK of belief in a God of judgement. And he says-and this is remarkable-he says, ‘If God were not angry at injustice, that God would not be worthy of worship. The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves, is to insist that judgement is legitimate only when it comes from God. My thesis, that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance, will be unpopular with many, BUT, it takes the quiet of a suburban home to believe that human nonviolence results from a belief in God’s refusal to judge, in a land soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die with other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.’ Now here’s what he is saying, is this. If you have talked to some people who have seen their homes burned, and seen their family members killed and raped, how are you going to keep them from picking up the sword and being sucked into the cycle of violence and retaliation? What are you going to say? Are you going to say, ‘Well you know, violence doesn’t solve anything…’ Not only will such moralizing not touch their hearts… “But, It doesn’t? It shows no concern for justice? And anybody who has been wronged like that says, ‘Justice has to be done!'” Paul says, the only resource he knows powerful enough to BOTH pacify the human heart’s desire for justice, and at the same time, KEEP US from getting sucked into that cycle of blood and vengeance, is to say there is a God and He will put everything right… EVERYTHING RIGHT. And Volf says, ‘If you think not believing in a God of judgement is going to keep people from being sucked into the cycle of violence, you’re wrong. If you don’t believe that there is Somebody who is going to make everything right, you will pick up the sword, and you will get sucked in.’ And therefore he says, ‘If you don’t believe that the doctrine of God’s judgement, if you don’t believe that that is a powerful resource for peace on Earth… you’ve had a sheltered life. You have not experienced this. Belief in a God of judgement is crucial,’ he says. ‘It’s about the only thing… the only resource that is strong enough to help me (and he was saying this as a Croatian) to live in peace on Earth.'”
Again, I have to admit, I wasn’t trusting in the God of judgement when I leapt for joy inside, when I read about Egypt’s judgement (man’s judgement), their air-strike retaliation upon Libya. Some could actually argue that it was God’s judgement. Fine, I get it. But, remember what happened to Assyria? God used their sinful desires to judge Israel, but then God also judged Assyria for those same sinful desires:
“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations. For it says, “Are not my princes all kings?
“Is not Calno like Carchemish,
Or Hamath like Arpad,
Or Samaria like Damascus?
“As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
Whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images
Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”
So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” For he has said,
“By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this,
For I have understanding;
And I removed the boundaries of the peoples
And plundered their treasures,
And like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants,
And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest,
And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth;
And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped.”
Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it?
Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it?
That would be like a club wielding those who lift it,
Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors;
And under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame.
And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame,
And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day.
And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body,
And it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
And the rest of the trees of his forest will be so small in number
That a child could write them down.”
Maybe, just maybe, I was also wrong for hoping that the United States would get involved as well.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This is not an easy topic.
In my flesh, I wonder how I would have handled being one of the 21 martyrs. In my flesh, I want vengeance. But, such is not what I should be concentrating on. I should be praying for God to be glorified, and that His will be done. I should be praying for the Gospel to be spread. I should be praying for the 21 executioners’ hearts and minds to be changed regarding Christ, as a result of participating in this horrific act. I should be trusting that God is sovereign… that He will bring justice… that He will make “everything right”.
Godspeed, to the brethren!
*This is a link to an article regarding the belief system of the 21 who were martyred:
The Great Evangelical Copt Out
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Good post, brother… One sad reality is that we can’t even take comfort in the final destiny of these Copts. While none of us can speak with assurance either way, it is likely that none of these martyrs were saved, as the Coptics preach a works gospel. A sad situation on every front.
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When is it ok to retaliate? Was it ok to retaliate when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor? Are we to wait for God’s judgment on all aggressors. Maybe I’m confusing apples and oranges. I understand what your point is, but does that work in all situations?
The “we” in the context of the article are the brethren.
God is the ultimate source of justice but sometimes he uses humans to carry out this justice. Romans 13:4 says of the human ruler, “He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
I agree, Clyde!
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