As I write this, I have just seen the news that a second American journalist has been executed by ISIS in Iraq. Our prayers join with those of all good and reasonable people asking God to grant comfort and healing to the man’s family and to bring peace to that troubled area of the world.
Recent inhumanities visited upon the innocent are unthinkable. In a word, they are visible examples of “sin.” Meanwhile, the more we read of them, the more frightened we become. Has ISIS targeted Jordan, Turkey, or Lebanon? Are they present, as some now fear, in little cells in the midwest? Are they, in fact, daily slipping over the border from Mexico, as I heard suggested last week? And with each new theory, our sense of corporate paranoia is increased.
Let’s try, if possible, to put our understandable alarms into something of a political/historical perspective. ISIS is a guerilla army. They seem to be fanatically bent on destroying anything that hints of Christianity, Judaism, moderate Islam, the West, Europe, or democracy. They are not the first group to harbor those intents, nor will they be the last. They consider themselves to be “at war” with most of human philosophy as we know it on the planet. And, during times of war, inexcusable acts of violence are committed. Due to the Internet, we now see those acts within seconds after they occur. But, acts of violence have always been committed during war. We didn’t have YouTube to give us instant visuals of Auschwitz or Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Hungary or Hiroshima or the still-bleeding victims of Napoleon. Thank God, ISIS is not equipped, nor will it be, to match any of those pieces of relatively recent history. And, so far as their unspeakable acts of terrorism go (the beheading of two American journalists and the murder and torture of innocent Iraqi citizens), identical acts are sadly scattered throughout history. In the days of Jesus, the Roman Empire had so many crosses erected along roadsides (where crowds could watch the slow, agonizing deaths) that it would have taken calculators to count them. In the Middle Ages, executioners were virtual celebrities, and people brought their children out with picnic baskets to watch the proceedings. Less than a hundred years ago in our own “land of the brave and home of the free,” innocent men were hanged because of the color of their skin. Violence and inhumanity have always been a tragic and indefensible part of humanity’s landscape, whether in times of war or simply as part of depraved epochs in human history.
The word of hope that restores us is one spoken by Jesus: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In other words, Jesus is stronger than whatever has us frightened. Put that promise in a historical context. Babylon had the world frightened. Assyria had the world frightened. Greece had the world frightened. Rome had the world frightened. The Barbarians had the world frightened. Spain had the world frightened. As did England. As did France. As did Italy and Germany and Japan and the Soviet Union. Even Christians during the Inquisition had the world frightened due to violent religious fanaticism. But, in time, forces of evil were tamed, and many became remarkable forces of good. Somehow throughout the ages, whenever evil has reared its head, God has stilled its hand. Moment by moment we may not see that. Day by day the headlines argue against it. But epoch by epoch, we realize it is true. God and goodness always win. Always. That is neither wishful thinking nor positive thinking. It is historical reality.
So, we pray for an end to all the world’s foolish violence. We pray for people to let go of the idea that everyone has to interpret Faith “my way” or else they are dispensable. We pray for people to begin to practice the religious principles which they proclaim. We pray for civility, kindness, and love to rule. We pray that persons of all Faiths will surrender to a principle which every major Faith in the world preaches: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Every Faith claims to believe in those words... words which, if practiced, would end all violence and war immediately. We pray for children to be safe and women no longer to suffer the unspeakable results of systematized misogyny and the elderly to be respected and those in power to use that power for the people and not for themselves. We pray “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” believing that in time that prayer will be answered. Perhaps not soon enough to calm all our current fears, but in time that prayer will be answered. The God who reigns will continue to reign. The evil that always comes and goes will, in fact, go. And goodness and holiness and a respect for people and the fingerprints of the saints will remain. As it has been, so shall it be.