Sometimes you hear atheists and others object to the language of the imprecatory psalms, claiming that the Bible is this violent, hateful text because of the things contained therein. But when I heard about members of ISIS setting people on fire, kidnapping and beheading Christians from Egypt, and committing all manner of other horrific acts of violence, I suddenly find myself agreeing with David at his darkest moments.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers! (Ps 10.15)
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rocks! (Ps 137.9)
Add guilt to their guilt,
may they have no acquittal from you.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living. (Ps 69.27-8)
These are tame expressions of the sentiments that ISIS can provoke; a less pious person would express himself much more coarsely and violently.
So when I heard about the things that ISIS has been doing, I thought to myself: I get it now. ISIS is the modern equivalent of the enemies of David's day, and of the days of the two kingdoms. I can sympathize with Jonah's sentiment that it'd be better to die than to see the Assyrians repent and get off scot-free for their malevolence.
But then I read about Nazis in France who desecrated the tombstones of Jews, painting swastikas upon them. At that moment I realized: it is far easier to hate, and to find reason to live in our hatred, than to live in love. It is far more natural to let your heart be hardened with anger, and to go on throughout your days moved by that anger, than to love and to try to live in love. Loving your enemies, loving the enemies of humanity itself, is contrary to the impulse of every fiber of our being, contrary to our very nature which cries out for their death.
But doesn't the Bible teach us that our nature is corrupt, not as it should be, and that our hearts are wicked and deceitful above all else? Didn't Jesus teach us to pray for our enemies and to bless them? How can he expect such a thing of us? Can we really be obligated to do such a thing?
To my mind, the argument is irrefutable: it must be our obligation to do so, precisely because it is so unnatural and contrary to our every impulse. We hear Jesus' words about love and they sound good and fine, so long as we are talking about forgiving petty offenses. Yet we draw back when it comes time to apply them to the case of true offenders, persons who want our lives and our heads. And yet these are precisely the hateful, despicable, miserable sort of creatures who killed Christ, and for whom he died, and to whom he promised the Holy Spirit. That is what the first post I ever published on this blog was about: the promise of the Holy Spirit is for the deicidal.
St. Isaac the Syrian taught me to see in the Scriptures that God is happy for the repentance of even the most heinous of sinners. A lifetime of sin and filth is wiped away forever, forgotten, never to be remembered again, when the sinner turns from his ways and confesses that he has done wrong. God himself is happy to receive any and all, on the slightest and easiest and lightest of conditions. Can Christians be any more demanding than God? Can they cry injustice when God and his angels celebrate the repentance of a sinner?
Every fiber of my being and my moral sense tells me that ISIS is a force of evil which ought to be stopped as quickly as possible. They are evil, they are dirty bastards, and they deserve death for what they do. It seems to me a military expedition with the sole purpose of eradicating that satanic group is eminently justifiable. And yet, I am a Christian and I must pray, even for those bastards, "Lord have mercy! Lord have mercy! Lord have mercy!"
I want them to see the error of their ways. I want them to leave their lives of violence and that godforsaken nonsense they believe, to accept just punishment for what they have done, and to call upon the mercy of Jesus Christ to forgive them, even them. I can't see that things will turn out that way -- I have no idea, in fact, how things will turn out -- but my lack of imagination is no obstacle for God to work.