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We Celebrate the Death of No One

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Pastor Jim Melvin

It is human nature, when spurred on by a sense of righteous indignation, to take joy in and celebrate the death of heinous people. We may feel like fist bumping our neighbor when a mass murderer receives a lethal injection. We saw televised images of mobs of Iraqis dancing in the streets following the violent hanging of Saddam Hussein. It is not surprising, therefore, that immediately following the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani in Iraq that social media lit up in celebration of the death of a man responsible for the death of thousands. Those who did not join in the festivities were denounced as unpatriotic.

As a Christian, I turn to scripture, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, for moral guidance. If I did not do so, I would be a hypocrite. If we bear the name Christian, we are bound by the authority of Christ as we learn to know him in scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Let me therefore turn to the words of Jesus himself that I find enlightening in our current situation. Jesus, laying out his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount told those assembled there,

“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 children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

Admittedly this is a hard teaching. Loving our enemies runs contrary to human instinct. Praying for those who are doing us harm seems impossible. Few if any of us, hanging from a cross would be able to pray as Jesus did for his tormenters, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We cannot change our gut reactions toward the punishment of radical evil. We do, however, have control of and a moral obligation to be imitators of Christ in our subsequent actions. That would include refusing to join in the celebration of Suleimani’s death. If we cannot bring ourselves to pray for him, we can soberly pray that his death was just and will serve the greater purpose of peace. Peace is truly a cause for celebration.

Being a faithful Christian does not make us any less patriotic and it certainly does not make us traitors to America. To the contrary, there is no higher form of patriotism than to adhere to the religious and moral values that inspired our forefathers to establish this great nation under whose flag we live. We can also pray for those who continue to celebrate Suleimani’s death, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Don’t Drink the Poison

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I read today that the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were carried out by an Islamist group in revenge for the lethal attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which occurred just over a month ago. The Christchurch attack took 50 lives; the Sri Lanka attack claimed over 300. The perpetrators of the Sri Lanka attack are the numerical winners by an over six to one margin. Of course, there were no winners in this violent exchange, only losers. Among the losers are all civilized people.

You can google a lot of pithy quotes about revenge. “While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself” and “Seeking revenge is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill your enemies” are two of my favorites. But turn to Jesus is you want true words of wisdom on the subject. Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“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 children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Since both terrorist events took place half a world away, it gives us as Americans a chance to see with greater clarity the poisonous effects of revenge. The New Zealand attacker justified his attack based on a psychopathic desire to seek vengeance against Muslims for violence against Christians dating as far back as the 14th Century. Now the Sri Lankan Islamists have extracted their eye for an eye. Everybody loses.

Jesus’ words about hatred, revenge and love of our enemies are the most challenging of all his teachings. The twisted wires of our DNA program us to hurt back when somebody hurts us or someone we love. As children of God, however, we are not slaves to our evolutionary programming. The Gospel of love that Jesus lived and died for allows us to short-circuit the cycle of violence. And the merciful God known to the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world empowers them to do likewise.

But only if we DON’T DRINK THE POISON!