As a Christian nation, should we have turned the other cheek on Syria?
SAN DIEGO, April 7, 2017 — President Trump said that no “child of God” should have to suffer the brutality of the sarin gas attacks on the Syrian people this week. President Trump then sent 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to destroy Sayhart Airforce Base near Homs, Syria where the gas attacks allegedly originated from.
Not an example of turning another cheek, but an example of protecting thy lesser brother.
How Christians should react to terrorism is a question many struggle with. Although news of an attack, Syria last week, Sweden today, doesn’t seem to surprise people anymore, many were shocked back in 2008 when the UK Guardian printed a harrowing story:
“Protesters in London who carried placards threatening suicide bombings and massacres in revenge for the Danish cartoons satirizing the prophet Muhammad are to be investigated by Scotland Yard and could face arrest….
“Most of the placards appeared on Friday, running through permutations on several themes. They read: “Butcher those who mock Islam”, “Slay those who insult Islam”, “Behead those who insult Islam”, and “Kill those who insult Islam”. Some evoked previous al-Qaida suicide bombings: “Europe you will pay, your 9/11 is on the way”… As well as the rhyming “Europe you’ll come crawling, when the Mujahideen come roaring”, there were splenetic varieties: “Freedom go to hell”, “Liberalism go to hell”, and “Freedom of expression go to hell” (The Guardian, February, 5, 2006).
Despite these expressions of pure evil, our British cousins often placate Muslims.
Some schools in England have decided to stop teaching about the Holocaust because many Muslims there do not believe the Holocaust even happened and find such teaching offensive.
Before you react: Yes, there are peaceful Muslims in the world. The point here is not to get into a discussion about Islam. The subject here is not Muslim theology, but rather Christian theology.
Sending out an e-mail message about those signs to my blog subscribers, I received a prompt rebuke from a Christian brother who shared his thoughts on forgiveness. He reminded us that we are to forgive our enemies.
This gentleman was an intelligent, dedicated Christian brother. He spoke sincerely, in a gentle, Christian manner.
But his innocence was exactly what made the man’s response so frustrating. Often, the heart and the head are in two different places. Even smart, bright people can be sincerely misled.
His view is not uncommon, and it deserves a careful response.
My concern comes from the fact that nowhere in the e-mail containing the pictures, did anyone ask Christians to not forgive Muslims, or not forgive their enemies.The purpose was simply, to tell the truth: Islam is not a religion of peace. Indeed, according to the Koran, Islam’s commission is to wage war against the infidel and bring about a Muslim world (Surah 9 and Surah 61). Not all Muslims take such commands literally, but militant Muslims do. They will probably not succeed, but we should understand the goal. A monstrous evil is in the wind and people need to be warned.
If we choose to inform the world about an evil enemy, will people assume we are unforgiving? If so, something is drastically wrong with our current understanding of Jesus and His message.
Muslims today are coming to Christ in the tens of thousands, year after year. This is wonderful and we should rejoice to see the forgiveness of God. But we should not be silent or refrain from discussing militant Muslims who still plan to spread a repressive cult.
As Christians and American citizens, we owe it to our children to leave behind a culture and life as peaceful as the one we were blessed to experience.
Today’s generation of Christianity is quick to embrace the doctrine of forgiveness without really understanding it. Yes, the command to forgive is Biblical, but it comes with two important qualifications: 1) There is a difference between forgiving and excusing. 2) There is a distinction between who is to be forgiven and who is not.
1) There is a difference between forgiving and excusing.
The Bible is full of warnings against evil, spoken by God through the mouth of his prophets and apostles. God called both nations and people “evil.” For instance, Jeremiah, speaking for God about Israel says, “The people of Israel and of Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done” (Jer 32:32). Speaking of the King of Babylon, Jeremiah says, “…the evil Morecach became king of Babylon.”
While the Bible teaches that everyone has a sinful nature, it does not imply that every single, human being is evil. “Evil” is the result of a seared conscience, the ftruit of one who has completely given into sin (1 Tim 1:1-19, Heb 6). This is why Proverbs distinguishes between the righteous man and the wicked man. The righteous man has his own sins to contend with, and we all need the atonement of Christ on the cross, but righteous refers to one who is working through that process of sanctification with God’s Spirit.
A righteous man does not go around calling himself righteous. On the contrary, he refers to himself as sinful (selfish) and cooperates with the Holy Spirit to have his heart continually purged and scrutinized.The humble child of God is not self-righteous. The self-righteous do not admit their own selfish natures. Most Pharisees were in this category, and Jesus did not hold back when describing them. He called them “a brood of vipers” (Matt 12), “whitewashed tombs with dead bones inside” (Matt 23).
The same Jesus said those things as the Jesus who told us to forgive. If He came amongst us today with those harsh words, some Christians would officiously remind Him that as Christians, we are called to forgive. Jesus would also be exhorted to love His neighbor.
Jesus knew the difference between tough love and merciful love. His was not a “one size fits all” ministry. The woman caught in adultery was treated with tenderness and compassion. Why? Because she knew and admitted her sin. The Pharisees did not. Many turned so evil in their self-righteousness that they reached a point of no return, blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing a sin even Jesus did not die for it (Matt 12). When talking about such men, Jesus spoke not to save people at a point of no return, but to warn those who were under their wicked influence.
As Christians, we proclaim the gospel (good news) about a God who forgives us for our sins. But that is not the entire gospel. The gospel also teaches that God wants to deliver us from sins committed against us. The Messiah was not only to die for the sins of Israel but to rescue Israel from her enemies and rule over her as a benevolent king. This is why Jesus will return to save Israel and the church from her enemies, and this is why, under His reign, we will no longer fear murder, racism, or brutal oppression.
And this is why Jesus instructs us to spread His kingdom in the meantime in the here and now. Why did Jesus call His gospel “good news to the poor?” Because the poor are the victims of a greedy society. God wants to deliver us from evil and God wants us to warn people when evil is approaching (Luke 4:18-19).
Paul spoke out against the evil of Roman slavery (1 Tim 1, Gal 3, I Cor 7). Christians like Wilbur Wilberforce and Charles Finny followed his example and condemned slavery in England and America. In America, resistance against this monstrous evil sparked the Civil War. Should the war not have been fought, Christians of the North and South defining “forgiveness” as cowering meekly in the face of slavery?
Was it wrong to call Hitler “evil,” and to shed blood to end his dominion, including the blood of German Christians when repented of their sins?
As a pastor, I did a great deal of counseling. Many came to me who had been scarred for life, some by their very own parents. I met men and women alike who had been beaten or molested. With others, it was not a matter of what a parent had done, but rather, what they had not done. Some parents never told their own children that they loved them. These children grew up and as Christians realized how much hurt they were carrying. In all cases, there was an anger against their parents. They heard somewhere that they must forgive, so they went through the motions of forgiveness, not really accomplishing anything and obviously not feeling any better. Deep inside, they still wrestled tremendous rage and resentment, but now, a Christian guilt trip was laid on top of an already large pile of pain. As if things weren’t depressing enough, they were also made to feel guilty for not forgiving, even though they had tried to forgive time and time again.
In all cases, there was an anger against their parents. They heard somewhere that they must forgive, so they went through the motions of forgiveness, not really accomplishing anything and obviously not feeling any better. Deep inside, they still wrestled tremendous rage and resentment, but now, a Christian guilt trip was laid on top of an already large pile of pain. As if things weren’t depressing enough, they were also made to feel guilty for not forgiving, even though they had tried to forgive time and time again.
“The problem,” I said to so many of my parishioners, “Is that you are confusing forgiving with excusing. The reason you still feel anger is that you have not been freed up by Christians and granted permission by the church to express your anger.”
“But isn’t anger a sin?”
Not always. God expressed his anger many times in the Bible. In Exodus 4, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.”
In Ephesians, we read, ‘Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Eph. 4:26).
Anger is not a sin. Inappropriate anger is a sin. Anger at a person who has done you no wrong, simply because you feel annoyed and have a bad temper, is a sin.
But if someone has committed the terrible offenses of abuse, anger is not only an appropriate response, it would be emotionally unhealthy to deny it. Even so, what we do or fail to do with legitimate anger can also be a sin. If you have a bad day at work and take the anger out on your family when you return home because you are too fearful to confront your boss, that is a sin. Anger held inside is also a sin because it ferments and becomes bitterness. Or anger released in a fit of rage is a sin because you are out of control. Appropriate anger must be expressed but it can be verbalized without throwing furniture. Often, I have sat down with people over a cup of coffee, very calmly saying to them, ‘Let me tell you exactly how you made me feel when you spoke those comments last week.’ Without yelling, I am releasing anger and when I am done with this benign encounter, I do not feel angry any longer.
Or anger released in a fit of rage is a sin because you are out of control. Appropriate anger must be expressed but it can be verbalized without throwing furniture. Often, I have sat down with people over a cup of coffee, very calmly saying to them, ‘Let me tell you exactly how you made me feel when you spoke those comments last week.’ Without yelling, I am releasing anger and when I am done with this benign encounter, I do not feel angry any longer.
After sharing these truths, I would encourage my parishioners to confront their abusive parents, often with a letter so that they could take the time to carefully word things. The end of the letter might say something to this effect: “I needed to get these burdens off my chest so that I no longer harbor bitterness toward you. I do not want to continue being angry and sharing the anger was my way of stopping. It is my hope that by expressing this anger, we can heal our relationship. I want you to know that I do not excuse what you did. What you did to me was wrong and it will always be wrong. However, now that I have confronted you, I do forgive you.”
And yet, supposing the parent does not seek forgiveness, has not asked for forgiveness and does not feel they need forgiveness. In that case, the grown child still experiences a catharsis of released anger and evaporated bitterness. They now have an attitude of forgiveness, a forgiving heart, and a willingness to forgive their parent at any time, however (and this is my main controversial point) if the parent has not received such forgiveness, the relationship obviously is not healed. This means, the one who will not receive forgiveness is not forgiven, which leads to our second qualification:
2) There is also a distinction between who is or is not to be forgiven.
Luke 17:3 says, ” If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.”
“If he repents, forgive him.” This is an extremely important and frequently overlooked qualification. Would not the reverse also be true? “If he does not repent, do not forgive him.”
Luke 17 makes, even more, sense when we remember that God is our example here. Does God forgive everyone? As Christians we want to rush in and say, “Yes, of course,” and that is true in a sense, inasmuch as forgiveness is promised by God and commanded of Christians. But God not only authored those words, He went on to teach us what He meant by them.
QUESTION: Will everybody be in heaven? No, only those who receive Christ, or more specifically put, only those who accept God’s forgiveness. The person in hell for all of eternity does not feel forgiven and in point of fact is not forgiven. Yes, he could have been forgiven. Yes, God wanted to forgive him. Yes, Jesus died for his sins, but not all sins. The sin of refusing to accept Jesus, the sin of rejecting God’s forgiveness, was not paid for (Matt 12, Heb 6, Heb 10). In a similar manner, our friends or families are forgiven by us when they ask for forgiveness.
My dad disowned me for becoming a Christian. Any anger held toward my dad was eventually dealt with and I did have a genuine desire to forgive him. I could even picture in my mind what it would be like. But my dad never asked my forgiveness and passed away, separated from his son. My mother is still alive. She had gone along with Dad’s decision to disown me because she was afraid to confront him. After Dad passed away, my mother expressed regret over all that went on over the years. It has been a joy and privilege to forgive my mother and in her case, she was able to experience my forgiveness because she wanted forgiveness.
So far, it has been helpful to compare the healing of a human relationship to the healing of a God/human relationship. But there is also an important difference. God alone has a right to offer forgiveness to all who will receive it, because all have sinned against God. It is not the same with me. Not all humans have sinned against me. Only some have. It is not incumbent upon me to forgive somebody for what they did to a third party. That, quite simply, is none of my business. Oh sure, I could tell this person that God forgives them. But if they have wronged another individual, the two of them must settle things themselves.
Often times, when some murderer is on death row, I will hear Christians call in to talk shows, saying that we must forgive the man. Excuse me, but the only individuals in a position to forgive are the families of the victims. And in those cases, whether or not they extend forgiveness depends upon whether or not the murderer has owned up to what he has done and asked for forgiveness. Should they forgive him if he repents? Yes. Should they harbor bitterness in their hearts if he does not repent? No. Nevertheless, if the murderer has not asked the family to forgive what he did to their loved one, they have not forgiven him, neither should they be encouraged to.
Likewise, when Militant Muslims go around with signs claiming the Holocaust never happened, or rulers like Ahmadinnejad brag about how they will sponsor a new holocaust, it is a gross misrepresentation of justice when Christians jump into quickly offer forgiveness. Let the Jews decide for themselves if they wish to forgive some Holocaust deniers/instigators.
Christians may forgive those who speak and fight against Christians. Even so, in Revelation 19, we see Christians rejoicing over the destruction of those who murdered God’s servants, people who chose not to repent and to continue with their evil. (The judgment comes from God in the future, not from Evangelical Christians in the present.) True, I would love to see everyone turn from sin someday, but many will not. Nevertheless, I can celebrate when a wicked man dies because he is no longer going to be able to hurt anyone else and because justice has finally been done. Yes, he could have known mercy, but if he rejects mercy, I am still grateful to see justice.
SUMMARY: Speaking out against evil does not mean we are unwilling to forgive evil. But speaking out against evil and working to stop evil are also part of the gospel. We are to forgive sin when the sinner asks for forgiveness. This is the way God handles it. Finally, even if one does not ask for forgiveness, we are to potentially forgive them and carry forgiveness in our hearts, rather than bitterness.
I know that for many of my Christian brothers and sisters, this was a whole new way of looking at things. I ask you to open your minds, consider what I am saying, and bottom line, if you do not feel I am being biblical, go with the Bible. If I should turn out to be wrong, heck…just forgive me.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
Many comments to posts are discussed by Bob over the air where anyone is free to call in and respond/debate. Call in toll free number: 1-888-344-1170.Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE New International Version NIV Copyright © 1973, 1979, 1984 by International Bible Society Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.