Friday, February 27, 2015

The Mercy of God to Our Enemies

There is little doubt that the majority of us have looked upon the violence of the Middle East with sadness, disgust, or anger. Our brothers are being slaughtered and the poor and oppressed, which includes everyone and not just Christians, suffer doubly from the violence coming from both sides.
The Coptic martyrs who recently died for faith in Christ.

It has been a subject of intense prayer for me. I oscillate between desiring the destruction of our enemies for the sake of our brethren (cf., for example, Ps 18) and between praying for mercy upon our enemies.

I find it simple to see Christ on the cross saying "Forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34) and say, "Of course, Christ did that because he's the Lord." Yet the very same prayer we pray every day commands us to "forgive those who have trespassed against us." I asked myself, in my heart, "Do I forgive them?" For indeed we are forgiven in the measure we forgive.

I became troubled that I could not formulate a concrete answer. I prayed as to whether I was so lacking in mercy and trust in God that I could not forgive my enemies who, despite their violence and power, are "like chaff driven by the wind" (Ps 1:4) and "like grass they wither quickly; like green plants they wilt away" (Ps 37:1). Because they all pass away and, from the perspective of history a brief period of time, they will also come to judgment. Violence begets violence, and many men have already come to a violent end. Some have perhaps met their end, regrettably, through torture. In death many had no chance to repent and in their obstinance have gone to meet their Lord and Creator.

We will all die and we will all be judged. Every day, with varying degrees of whole-heartedness (sadly sometimes not so much) I ask for God's mercy. But this Lent, this present moment, we should move outside ourselves and pray for His mercy on all men. This forces us to confront, by necessity the most horrible, unsavory, wicked, and disgusting parts of humanity. When we confront this we also confront ourselves, if we're honest. When we confront this in our hearts can we forgive? Can we intercede for them and pray that they turn from their wickedness? Will we turn from ours?

God, who is beyond eternity and beyond power, is Just, and His justice will endure forever and all men will confront his justice. But, indeed, "the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). Throughout Scripture God is teaching us a lesson.

His Son descended into the depths of hell, that is to say the depths of human depravity (living and dead)--to the very bottom--in order to redeem it. By his blood all were redeemed for God, but not all are yet saved. Those of us who are living, Christians too, none are as of yet saved, but by faith in Jesus Christ we are guaranteed salvation. This is not to be understood as a covering, like a sheet of snow, over our depravity. We are told to run the race, endure to the end, and walk in the footsteps of he who is the Way.

Salvation means that, by faith, we believe in Christ crucified and risen. Through this faith and baptism we are joined to his Body. In being joined to his Body we are joined to His sufferings and also share in his consolation (cf., 2 Cor 1:5). As Christians we suffer for the sake of the world. Joined to Christ I would say, more powerfully, that we are sacrificed for the sake of the whole world and all upon it. In order to be sacrificed like Christ we look to his example in sacrifice: ever willing to reconcile everyone to the Father through Him.
The image of Christ, his Body, the Church, and us as well.

I then came to think: if we believe that God should strike our enemies down that would be a regrettable thing. For "If you, LORD, keep account of sins, Lord, who can stand?" (Ps 130:3). Those whom we look down on the most are perhaps more explicitly wicked than us, but we who relish in how wicked others are cover our own wickedness with injustice. All are sinful and all are guilty of contributing to this state of sin which we live in. 

Christ alone is "the light shining in the darkness"(Jn 1:15) and we, by joining ourselves to Christ in faith and truth, reflect that light in the same manner that He "reflects the refulgence of the Father's glory" (cf., Heb 1:3).

We do so by seeking forgiveness. We do so more so by loving others. We do it most perfectly by loving our enemies.