Not long ago, a prominent story in the news caught my attention, and I have continued to think about it. A man in London deliberately attacked a group of Muslims outside a mosque by trying to run them over with a van.
My initial reaction on reading about this was to think that now English Muslims would also know what its like to be the target of a mass murder attack in a western country. Given that my initial reaction on hearing about the September 11 attacks was to pray for God’s mercy on the hijackers, this reaction surprised me.
When there are almost weekly news of attacks by Muslims on non-Muslims in western countries people on trains, in concerts, with knives, with cars and trucks, you can easily become very weary of the one-way nature of the traffic. A type of fatigue sets in, and instead of wanting justice to be done, you start thinking of revenge.
Well, I do. I don’t know about you.
And I found that this desire for revenge wasn’t one which I actively decided on. It had crept up on me without my putting effort into choosing it. And it took the form of wanting the Muslim community in general to have a taste of the fear and terror that has come out of their community to afflict others.
It was quite a shock.
Especially as Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.
It really struck me how much effort needs to go into this. And that it isn’t enough to say this is what Jesus told us to do and so we need to do it. Because when that is our focus, there is no justice, and so we are only left with revenge. Which appears to be the case for the man who attacked those outside the mosque.
The only way to display the mercy that Jesus demands, is to understand the mercy Jesus gives. And to understand the justice that God exacts, so we don’t feel the need for revenge.
Jesus extends mercy to us, even though we do not deserve it. Our sin has earned us a death penalty. The sins of our community and our country, which we willingly participate in, have earned us a death penalty. And yet through Jesus, God extends us mercy.
Not the sort of mercy where God just ignores our sin, or overlooks it. Because there is no justice in that, and so that can only lead to demands for revenge from those we have harmed. Instead, God exacts a just punishment for our sin, but from Jesus instead of us. Justice is done, but mercy is shown.
In the case of being on the receiving end of terror attacks, I can be certain that God will punish those sins. From those who support terrorism, whether personally, financially, morally or tacitly, God will demand satisfaction. When I know and trust that God will make all things right, I am freed from my need for revenge.
But I still need to make one more step. I need to remember that I was spared God’s justice by God’s mercy, where Jesus took the punishment I deserved. Its too late to pray for terrorists who died in their own attacks. They have made their decision. But it is not too late to pray for those who support, encourage, finance or enable terrorism. To pray for God’s mercy on them, for God to give them the faith they need to turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
My reaction to these attacks reminded me of my own sin. Of my need to remember how God has been just and merciful to me. To extend the same mercy to others, regardless of what they have done, because I trust in God’s justice.
Its not easy to change your natural reactions of fear, hate and revenge to ones of love, patience and mercy. But thank God that this is possible through the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ.