With the unimaginable evils being committed by ISIS and other terror groups around the world, many Christians are calling for their violent destruction — some even voluntarily taking up arms.
At first glance this may seem like a heroic, brave, and honorable act, but before we start killing our enemies, Christians must ask themselves four very important questions:
1. Did Jesus clearly tell you to kill these people?
In the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly instructs his followers to avoid violence and promote peace.
Jesus states things like:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt. 5:9 ESV)
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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38-39)
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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-48)
Not once does Jesus command violence or instruct his followers to kill anyone. So this begs the question: Would Jesus contradict all of his actions and teachings and command one of his followers to kill someone today?
2. Do you believe your enemies are created in the image of God?
Genesis 1:27 (ESV) tells us that God created man in [God’s] own image, in the image of God [God] created him; male and female [God] created them.
God declares in Isaiah (45:12): It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host.
Does God really love everyone — the entire world? Do you really believe this? Do Christians seriously consider everyone specially made by God — divinely created in God’s image? Because if so, you aren’t just killing an enemy — you’re killing one of God’s creations.
3. Do you believe your enemies are irredeemable — beyond God’s power and ability to save?
As brutal as are enemies are, with God all things are possible — even miraculous changes. If we take up the sword against our foes, what if we’re preventing someone from becoming the next Paul — who was once Saul — the man who once feverishly persecuted Christians (Acts 9)?
But through the amazing work of God, Paul incredibly changed. Is God incapable of doing the same thing within our enemies’ lives today?
Obviously, this doesn’t mean we give violence a free pass and passively stand aside and let injustice take its course, but it should give us pause before we assume the authority to take the lives of others.
4. Do you believe God can’t achieve justice?
Even though Jesus continually warns against judging others — we often use any excuse to exact revenge and inflict pain onto our enemies.
Jesus told his disciples: If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. (Matt. 16:24-28)
Additionally, as Jesus is on the verge of being arrested, ruthlessly tortured, and ultimately sacrificed on the cross, his disciple Peter does what many of us want to do when we see our Christian brothers and sisters being attacked and persecuted:
But Jesus once again instructs his followers to avoid violence.
Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:10-11)
Jesus adds, “Don't you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (Matt. 26:53)
Thousands of angels.
Has Jesus suddenly lost his omnipotence and strength? Is he unable to call upon legions of angels today? Has God become weak and helpless that God requires us to do God’s bidding?
The reality is that God still has that power at God’s disposal today.
Jesus didn’t need Peter to violently enforce justice because God’s divine will cannot be defeated — even though at times it may seem otherwise.
Despite Jesus’s life and instruction, Christians will respond that pacifism and a nonviolent approach is absurd.
Maybe it is, but much of Christianity is absurd.
It’s absurd for Noah to build an ark.
It’s absurd to talk to a burning bush.
It’s absurd to listen to a talking donkey.
It’s absurd that Moses parts the sea.
It’s absurd for Jonah to get swallowed alive by a fish.
It’s absurd to march around a fortress seven times and expect its walls to crumble.
It’s absurd to willingly give away your possessions.
It’s absurd to love your enemies.
It’s absurd to drop everything and follow Christ.
It’s absurd that Jesus died but was raised from the dead three days later.
Christianity is absurd. So yes, a nonviolent approach relating to our enemies often doesn’t make sense, but as a follower of Jesus things rarely do. The important thing is that we emulate Christ’s life to the best of our ability — no matter how absurd it seems.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.