When Love Means War
by Dr. Mark Herringshaw
Jesus’ words are inconvenient today. As the horror of the New York and Washington attacks settles into the cracks of our souls, one bitter question resounds: how do we love these enemies? Since September 11th we have stumbled through cycles of crushing emotion. On Tuesday we sat around kitchen tables or in office cubicles in stunned disbelief. On Wednesday we stood awkwardly over our children’s beds trying to comfort their fears. On Thursday we lay awake into the night, haunting images of falling towers and weeping widows playing in our brains. On Friday we prayed, a nation so awkward on her knees. On Saturday we woke with the bile of rage fuming in our bellies. War is at once everywhere and nowhere, with each one of us a citizen soldier alongside the tireless firemen in Manhattan and the heroic hostages who stormed the cockpit over Pennsylvania. Right now we are looking for some stitch to seam up the tatters. And what do we find? Jesus’ words, agitating rather than comforting our souls. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.”
Our rage is real. And it is good. Anger like ours is a sign of health, for our morally lethargic society is finally calling something absolutely evil. Some wonder, “Is this God’s judgment; has our sin removed God’s protective hand?” Perhaps. But God never begets chaos. He is, even now, using it to bring about His better purposes, but such carnage is nothing but the spawn of hell. These deeds were evil and we are right to respond with anger.
But right anger is a dangerous companion. It can turn and pollute our souls. Animals lash back against assault with defensive instinct. We know this impulse, for we are, on one level, animals. But we are not mere animals. We are spirit creatures made in God’s image, called by God to rule our instincts with spirit. So we must distinguish righteous anger from vengeful wrath.
And we draw this line with love. Yes, love – the startling marriage of anger and love. Which leads then to a first question: How can I love my enemies when there is not a flicker of natural tenderness within me? In one sense this is the essence of being Christian: we can never obey any command of Jesus. In fact the entire Christian life is impossible. Only Jesus can be a Christian, and only Jesus can live His will and way through me. As Pastor Morris Vaagenes is so fond of saying: “I can’t, You can, please do, thank you.”
But then, a second question: how do I love my enemies… or more accurately, how do I let Jesus love them through me? Here we find some surprises.
We bless them. Paul speaks directly: “Bless those who curse you” (Romans 12:14). “To bless” is something far more than to simply “wish the best.” Covenant blessing is a supernatural release of grace from one person to another, an unction that the blessed one might fulfill his/her supernatural destiny. Jacob (Genesis 49) “blessed” his twelve sons that they might each live out their intended purposes. To bless is to literally impart upon someone the presence of God, which will mean goodness as well as judgment. To bless our enemies is to ask that the weight of God’s fullness would be heavy upon them, and that they would submit under the pressure of His holiness and realize the full potential of their lives.
To bless Muslims has particular significance. For our Muslim cousins (even those few who sanction this kind of holy war against the West) are aching for favor from God. Their bitter hunger goes back to Genesis 21 when Ishmael, the son of Abraham not granted the promise of covenant, was sent away to the desert to live by his own wits and strength. In the desert Ishmael’s children remain-the Arabs of today. The good news we bring to them is that in Jesus the same blessing of Isaac is available to all Gentiles-to Ishmaelites as well the rest of us. What they bitterly fight to gain can be theirs by faith! So we bless our Muslim cousins with the knowledge of the favor of God’s covenant for them.
We pray for them. Jesus directs us: “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Why pray? Prayer is an act of intentional passivity, asking God to act where we cannot. Before Nehemiah confronted Artaxerxes, the Persian King who held the Jews in exile, he prayed. As a result, God bent the man’s intention (Nehemiah 1:10, 2:4). We might strike an enemy’s physical life, but no human can reach in to alter the heart or intent of another soul. In fact, whenever one soul tries to bend the will of another, the effort ends in bitterness. God, however, can mold motives and attitudes, even the intentions of our enemies. In this, our greatest weapon against their violence is prayer for their souls.
We forgive them. In the prayer Jesus taught us we utter: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass…” Forgiveness is imperative! In fact, if we do not forgive even the worst offenses against us, we ourselves are not forgiven (Matt. 6:14). But what is genuine forgiveness? It is not a warm emotion. It is not mustering the will to “like” our foes, or overlook their offense. Biblical forgiveness is a legal matter, a covenant agreement. When we forgive, we release a justified charge against another and in the process turn the prosecution over to God. He will exact the justice. Paul says it this way: “Leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19). And so we shall. By forgiving, we step aside to allow God to lift his leveling hand. For all His ways are just, and unlike our imperfect vindictive forces, His wrath is strategically redemptive.
We overcome them. Evil begets more evil. But when we intervene to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), we turn their evil deeds to an end that their perpetrators did not intend. Joseph wept before his brothers saying, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Paul claims that the injustice of imprisonment was turned to good because he redeemed the situation and made it an opportunity to share the gospel with Roman soldiers (Philippians 1:12). But how is this love for our enemies? When we do good in the face of evil, we stop some of the effects of wickedness. We cover some of their guilt and lessen their eternal accountability for havoc wrought in God’s order. The heroic deeds of firemen, the blood donated, and the financial gifts to families have birthed good in the world that was not here before September 11th. But heroic love intended for victims turns out, ironically, to be love for the terrorists as well, for it dims their shame.
We stop them. Love has many faces. And there are times when we must lift a hand and halt the evil. Revenge belongs to God (Romans 12:19). Still, at times we must institute force to stop the chaos of wickedness. Jesus himself was not above using force in His ministry. He did so in the temple when He turned over the tables of usury (Luke 19:42). This proves true, even if that force involves death. In the original language the commandment is “thou shalt not murder,” not “thou shalt not kill.” Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer made a choice to join an assassination plot against Hitler, and he called it love, love for the victims but also for Hitler himself. How? C.S. Lewis, echoing St. Augustine who wrote of “just war” says that love must sometimes act forcefully. If we believe in an eternal judgment, then stopping an evil person, even by killing him, can be merciful, for it stops him from further polluting the world and thus incurring darker damnation upon himself and those he influences. Worse things than death can happen to a human soul.
All of this is starkly relevant for us today. We are a nation at war. But we are not the first to face this question of right violent resistance. Every generation of followers of Jesus has wrestled with the reality-some of you in the Second World War, in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Gulf, or as police officers or reservists today. Our purpose, as Christian-Americans is: 1) to support our government, and 2) to stand as a prophetic voice reminding our government of the love and mercies of God. Even in the midst of military fury we must insist that actions be driven not by vengeful wrath, but by aggressive, persistent, creative love-love in forms that on the surface may not look familiar, but are nonetheless vigilant mercies.
Dr. Mark Herringshaw is the Senior Pastor at Vision of Glory Lutheran Church in Plymouth, MN. Mark and his wife, Jill, live in Vadnais Heights, MN with their four children.
Our Response to Suffering
by Dr. Joe Johnson
We are in the midst of tremendous suffering as a result of the unthinkable terrorist attack on America on September 11th. How do we respond to this suffering from the evil deeds of terrorists?
Express deep respect for the traumatic stress of rescuers and great loss of loved ones. When Job’s three friends heard about his suffering, they met at his home. When they saw him they could hardly recognize him. They wept aloud, tore their robes, and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights without saying a word because they saw how great his suffering was. This is an expression of deep respect and compassion. No easy answers were given to why he was in pain. I believe Jesus has been weeping with those who are suffering.
Ask “how” instead of “why.” In order to grow through suffering, we ask the “how” question instead of the “why” question. In John 9 we read, “Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, ‘Rabbi, who sinned; this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?’ Jesus said, ‘You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do'” (The Message).
Why was he blind? They wanted to know. But like Jesus with his disciples, God rarely answers my “why” questions. In His mercy He doesn’t give pat, simplistic responses to my pain and confusion. I probably do not even have good holding places for whatever the answer would be. Instead, as I turn toward Him, He frequently redirects my question, as He did for the disciples to ask “how”, rather than “why.” “Lord, how will you bring life out of this tragedy? How will you show me that you are a merciful God, a good God, even in this unjust circumstance?”
Remember that God is sovereign over suffering. God does not send suffering. We pray to God to protect us from suffering: “Deliver us from evil.” There is a mystery of unanswered questions with evil and suffering. We confess, “God, you are God, and I am not God.” God uses suffering to accomplish his purposes in the world. God used Stephen’s suffering and death to bring salvation into Paul’s life. God used the persecution of believers to get them scattered out of Jerusalem into Samaria (Acts 8:1-3). This terrorist attack provided an opportunity for Billy Graham to speak the Gospel to the entire world at the same time. He spoke at the National Memorial Service which was broadcast on every major television station in the US and by satellite to the world. Every country in the world received this broadcast and because it was a geo-political event, every leader watched and heard it translated into his/her language.
Fight against suffering and evil. We do not accept suffering passively. Peter and the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Father ten Boom and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, helped hide Jews in Holland. When they were discovered, he said to the Nazi’s, “We have done nothing wrong.” Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We participate with Jesus by ministering to the suffering. We fight against the powers of darkness in prayer. We say “no” to evil. We may use force to protect people from evil. We set up boundaries with those who are treating us harmfully. We fight against the lies of the accuser when we are going through suffering.
Pray for faith to endure. Enduring faith is that which does not quit (Hebrews 12:3). I ask God to give me enduring faith. The Greek word for endurance, hupomone, is not passive resignation, but an active resistance to defeat. “…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us “(Hebrews 12:1). The words patience and endurance are used interchangeably in the New Testament. The Greek word for patience, makrothumia, means to suffer long (1 Cor. 13:4, Gal. 5:22-23). I also draw strength from others to endure.
Bear one another’s burdens through intercessory prayer. God used the intercession of the believers to save Peter’s life (Acts 12). God lifts the load of overwhelming grief through intercession. We do not take on the person’s pain from them. We do not take the person’s place. Jesus does that. We do not substitute ourselves for Jesus. We all have a breaking point, and it is then that we need others to be with us and to help us carry our burdens.
Receive comfort and encouragement from the Scriptures.
We phone 911 when we need help. The terrorist attack happened on September 11(9-11). We call out Psalm 91:1 for help: “Father, I praise you that I dwell in the secret place of the Most High and that I shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty (Whose power no foe can withstand). I will say of you, Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, on You I lean and rely and in you I confidently trust'” (The Amplified Bible).
Dr. Joe Johnson is Senior Pastor at Grace Lutheran in Show Low, AZ. He is also a Lutheran Renewal Board member, and one who has been a burden bearer for so many of us.
The Master’s Institute Opens Its Doors
by Kathryn Calvert – Director of Administration
Through the walls of my office on Thursdays and Fridays I hear loud laughter, worship songs, hushed times of prayer, group discussion, and comments like, “I am not here by mistake. I am supposed to be here. God has a purpose for my life.” Or “We can use computer technology, but if we want to be an excellent Bible learner, we put our hands on the Living Word and practice turning every page.”
These are sounds from the nine students who are ushering in The Master’s Institute (MI). They attend classes two days a week and work as paid interns in local churches. They also take part in a process of spiritual development that includes discussions with a mentor and being held accountable for reading assignments, group discussions, private devotions, scripture reading, and prayer.
Remembering that this is our first year, we are grateful for the camaraderie that has sprung up among students, faculty, mentors and staff. Yet it’s not been a totally smooth ride. In spite of our intent to maintain three equal segments of academics, internships and spiritual development, we struggle to keep the academic leg in balance with the others. So we’re in a test mode to determine the appropriate level of required reading and writing assignments, and each person’s input is welcomed and respected. We are deeply grateful for students willing to withstand some growing pains and still receive great blessings from their experience.
Six students are married, five have children living at home, two are working in defined ministry positions, and six have served as worship leaders in their congregations, bringing significant musical talent to the class. They take turns leading worship and delivering a message at chapel services held each class day.
Even as we continue to refine The Master’s Institute, we are hearing from other churches who are considering becoming MI satellites in their cities and towns. The inclusive program of MI has captured the interest of many pastors and prospective students around the US and in several locations out of the country.