The carnage in Paris touches a deeply felt need in most of us for revenge, or some sort of action to retaliate. France’s Hollande called it an “Act of War.” Might not a broad coalition of nations root out that violent, cowardly, barbaric group called ISIS? Yet, as we are informed, ISIS seeks such a confrontation. To build the Caliphate, an apocalyptic battle with the West and Russia will be necessary. Then moderate Muslims around the globe will come to see in ISIS the reincarnated Caliphate of years gone by. As more Muslims die, many more will join the battle with suicide vests and attack rifles. The battle will not only be fought in Syria and Iraq but in every nation–France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States–that dares to fight the Caliphate. Suicide bombers will vie with planes and tanks for the most effective way to kill the enemy.
So what should we do? Thus far, many in the West have sought to dent the appeal of extremism and ISIS to young Muslims with the promises of better education, better jobs, and a help up the road to prosperity. But to young men and women with a total devotion to God and eternity ringing in their ears such promises might appear as only temptations to keep them from carrying out a divine mission. Meanwhile, many of us Christians sit at the sidelines uncertain of what to do or believe. Some will condemn all of Islam; others will join the army. But are we missing out on the message of Christ for a time like this?
Jesus said that “the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News.” The answer to the appeal to the Caliphate for Muslims around the world is another Kingdom. This is the “Kingdom of God.” Built on the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures the Kingdom of God is the realm where there is forgiveness of sins, food for the hungry. There will be water in the wilderness. There the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will leap. Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree. Slaves and prisoners will be liberated and all this will happen when people beat their swords into plowshares and will not learn war any more.
The Kingdom will not come through violence, through retaliation, through revenge. Instead it comes through repentance. When the first crusade came to Jerusalem the streets of the city literally ran red with blood. The war in Iraq killed over 100,000. Then the war in Afghanistan killed 10,000’s more. Libya is now a failed state, where thousands more have died. In Russia, the war in Chechnya killed thousands more, inspiring the Boston bombers. Who in the West will say, “We’re sorry.” Political leaders won’t say it…can’t say it. Will Christians? Wait, are we not confusing the two kingdoms in Lutheran lingo?
Look to Africa! At the end of the Nigerian civil war Rev. Paul Volz was called one night to the home of the Federal forces, Major Gowon. Gowan told him that he wanted to talk to a Christian about what was coming next. In two weeks the Biafran forces would be defeated. But… there would be no executions, not imprisonment for the rebels. They would be forgiven, forgiven for a war that caused over a million deaths.
In South Africa when the South African currency, the Rand, formerly one to a dollar, fell to 100 to a dollar, Nelson Mandela was let out of jail. This led to free elections. Under Bishop Tutu and others the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed. If you told the truth about what crimes you had committed, you would be forgiven. These Truth and Reconciliation commissions have now been adopted in Rwanda, Liberia, and elsewhere in the continent.
A lasting peace can only come when people repent and say, “I’m sorry.” But that is only half of the coming of the kingdom. The second part is even more difficult. Jesus said, “believe the good news.” No this wasn’t the Gospel in a nutshell. This was rather the fulfillment of the common human dreams of forgiveness, food, healing, peace, and all those other promises of the kingdom. In the coming days we will hear a plethora of folks, saying, in this evil world, with evil Jihadists, the only answer is more violence. Then the cycle will repeat itself again and again. Who will speak the good news and a whole different Kingdom is at hand, one spread through forgiveness, not hate, of love, not anger.
The message of the Caliphate is good news through violence and conquest. The message of the Kingdom is good news through reconciliation and love.