I remember a cartoon that my former Greek professor, Dr. Mark Regazzi, taped to the door of his office at Andrews University some 14 years ago. I’m assuming he taped it there in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center a year or so before I saw it, because I was in Scotland when that horrific atrocity occurred – where I remained for the next ten months.
Whatever the case, when I returned to Andrews the next September, it was still there, hanging on his door. The image of it still lingers in my mind, all these years later. It was of a father and son, sitting on a couch in their living room, watching something on TV. And the son turns to his father and asks this simple yet perceptive question: “Will we hate back?”
The message was clear: would we resort to the tactics of those who perpetrated crimes against us, returning hate for hate?
It was, of course, an artistic reminder of that which Martin Luther King, Jr. had said some three decades before: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Fourteen years after the 9/11 attacks – and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the overthrow of our worst enemies, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden – and the events this weekend in Paris remind us all too poignantly about the chilling effects of returning firepower for firepower, hate for hate.
Look, I recognize that in this day and age of global jihad and mass genocide that there are no easy answers – from a political perspective – when it comes to a nation’s response to such horrific tragedies. And I recognize that it may be overly naive to think that if a nation chooses to stop hitting back then these terrorists will just leave us alone.
What I do know, however, is that 14 years of trying to obliterate terrorists hasn’t worked. It’s just emboldened them. In fact, over 6,000 years of world history acutely demonstrates to us that violence – no matter how justified we may feel in using it – has never been able to squelch the terrorism that resides in all our hearts, and it certainly hasn’t made this world any safer. On the contrary, our world has never been more unsafe!
What makes us think that it will suddenly work now?
The reality of this hit home for me again as I read the words of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who some think may be the mastermind behind the the Paris attacks. The 27-year-old native of Belgium shared these revealing words a few years ago: “All my life, I have seen the blood of Muslims flow. I pray that Allah will break the backs of those who oppose him, his soldiers and his admirers, and that he will exterminate them.”
And yet, we keep moving forward, thinking all we need is bigger guns, more powerful bombs, better intelligence – believing that continuing to make “the blood of Muslims flow” will somehow stop the terrorists.
But it just continues to provoke them, strengthening their resolve.
What if we took him at his word, called his bluff, and stopped causing the blood of “Muslims to flow”? We’ve not yet tried this tactic – and the others haven’t worked anyway.
Again, I realize this all sounds utopian and naive. I also realize that I’m not sharing anything that the average student at a liberal arts college hasn’t already heard or thought about.
More than anything, I also realize that there are no political answers to spiritual problems – and that such violence will never fully be extinguished so long as a shred of sin remains in the heart of even a single human being. Heaven is, of course, the ultimate and only true answer.
Beyond all this, however, what really has me most troubled is the posture that we Christians, supposedly governed by the motive of love, take in response. It’s one thing for godless politicians to want to hit back; it’s another for Christians to lead the charge.
And yet the sad reality is that, at least here in the United States, conservative Christians are notoriously the most eager to go to war.
Yes, we want vengeance. Yes, we are outraged by innocent lives being taken. But we Christians should have the bigger picture in view, recognizing that whatever happens on this earth is not the final word. “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves,” Paul reminded, “but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
“Do not avenge yourselves.” Do we, who take pride in heralding the commandments of God, take this one seriously?
Similarly, why do we pursue safety as though it were the ultimate goal? And why are we so eager to give up freedom in exchange for it? Nowhere do I see in Scripture any admonition to covet safety. In fact, just the opposite. “Whoever desires to save his life,” Christ declared, “will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Even more poignantly and relevantly, God’s last-day people are identified as those who “loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11, KJV).
Why do we thus cling so desperately to temporal safety and preservation of life, as though “in this life only we have hope” (1 Corinthians 15:19), with no possibility of a resurrection and eternity?
The decision is thus before us: will we love back? Will we choose to live in the light of eternity, seeing the big picture, and spread the principles of God’s kingdom of love?
The natural heart cannot produce this love, of course. Indeed, as Ellen White reminds us, “Love is the basis of godliness. Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth spontaneously” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 384).
Let us, therefore, allow self to be merged in Christ, letting His love take root in our hearts.
Then, the response will never be hate – for it cannot be.