The current protests by Muslim “extremists” in response to an anti-Islam film have of course generated a great interest among Christians. The film in question depicts Prophet Mohammed as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. In response, the extremists have engaged in vandalism and murderous violence aimed at U.S residents in the Islamic bloc, the epitome of which was the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya. However, the kind of Christian interest being generated throughout social media and other discussion boards reveals a certain blind spot in many of us, the Christian observers. It is not uncommon to find witty and sarcastic comments such as “It is counterproductive to use violence to protest against accusation of violence” from Christian groups in an attempt to contrast our religion from Islam.
Of course such a comment would be considered extreme on the part of the reasonable Christian. We are expected to not “pay back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thess 5:15). Furthermore, some of the acts of violence against Americans in various Muslim regions are expressed in the form of persecution of Christians. Therefore, the church is essentially directly and indirectly affected. I am grateful for the different prayer movements for peace, taking place all over the world, and spear-headed by Christians. I am personally distressed by the escalated acts of violence and I am also praying for peace in these nations. My concern at the moment, however, is slightly different.
One cannot deny or easily dismiss the fact that, as Christians, most of us may be looking at the violent acts by these Muslim extremists with a certain air of self-righteousness. Some of us are even regarding such displays of violence as an explicit case against the validity of Islam as a religion. This also means that, Christianity is also being indirectly validated as a religion of peace, rightly worshiping the true Prince of Peace. Things seem to be working out for us. It is easy to get comfortable and use these events as a confirmation that we are on the right path. It is easy to find ourselves gloating, albeit subliminally, over the events currently taking place in the Islamic bloc.
Yet, Christianity also has its share of violent records that we do not like to remember or mull over. But we comfort ourselves by claiming that they are merely history. The witch hunts, heretic-burnings and the Crusades continue to be stark reminders that Christianity has not been immune to extremist sentiments. But my concern today is that we have managed to deceive ourselves that we are past such problems as Christians. I think a more appropriate expression is, the devil has managed to deceive us that we are past such grotesque depictions of religious extremism. Yes, we regret the Crusades, we apologized about them, can we move on now? Not so fast. I am worried that our problem may be much deeper than what is going on in Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan among other Arab nations.
Our problem is that the devil has managed to deceive many of us that it is the outward and physical acts of violence that count for grave sins before God. He has managed to convince us that the mindless violence and barbaric murders of innocent women and children by Islamic extremists are a greater abomination before God. They are nothing compared to the calm, peaceful and non-violent ways of the Christians, right? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to close that case. Consider what God considers an abomination before Him.:
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” [Proverbs 6:16-19]
Sounds like a nice list that accurately describes what the Muslim extremists are currently doing right? Especially that part about “hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil”. It is easy for us to find ourselves condemning what is going on and even peddle-verses in support of our condemnation. It aptly applies to them, not to us, right? But I am afraid that the devil has managed to do what he does best, prevent us from coming to the true knowledge of Christ. If only we’d take time to consider what phrases such as “a lying tongue” or “hands that shed innocent blood” mean to the Christian, we’d be on our knees, currently repenting.
I’ll let John outline some of those definitions for us. First, John tells us that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” [1 John 3:15]. He also clearly outlines to us that “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” [1 John 2:4]. The message in these and similar passages is clear. In the standards of Jesus, you do not have to physically aim a gun at your brother and pull the trigger to be considered a murderer, all you have to do is harbor hateful thoughts about him. All you have to do, is speak the truth… without love (just had to throw that one in there).
Come to think about it (and upon examining my own heart) not much has changed within Christianity in the past 1000 years. If we are to consider the biblical standard for and understanding of righteousness, not much has changed. Yes, cultural practices have changed, but that’s not what Jesus is fundamentally concerned about (the cultural practices are secondary, an outward display of an inward, primary change). In our hearts, we are most probably still as vile and as murderous as those dark Crusaders and merciless witch and heresy hunters of the past. Let us not forget that, holiness is not attained progressively (through cultural transformation) across the lifetime of a given society, but progressively (through personal transformation) across the lifetime of an individual. As a society, we are no holier than any past generation of Christians. The only difference is that they chose to express their sin in culturally relevant practices of that time or age.
My fear is that we could actually be worse, and not even know it. Perhaps it is time for us to revisit the biblical definition for sin. Sin is God not glorified through our obedience. It is Jesus Christ not exalted through our faith in His Gospel. Sin is man at enmity with God, and the only way to be reconciled to Him is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What we are seeing through the actions of the Muslim extremists are merely external expressions of an internal malady. A malady that none of us is immune to. A fatal malady, whose only cure is the blood of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps it’s time we revisited The Gospel and preached it over ourselves again and again. Perhaps it is time we discarded our “righteous acts” scorecard and picked up our “righteous heart” Grace card. David said it best when he spoke about the only sacrifice that God, our Father delights in;
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” [Psalm 51:17]
May we be found broken before the only one who can mend us.
In His service and for His glory,