My word this Lent is mercy (context is in previous post) and I’ve been trying to process what that means.
In doing so, the logical place to begin is to consider how mercy has been shown to me (and you). But I don’t feel like starting there. Perhaps the second worthy thought would be to consider who around us needs to be shown mercy. I’m drawn to that, confident I’ll get there soon but I’d really like to cut straight to the chase and ask, how do we show mercy to those, to say it politely, we’d rather not? To remove the etiquette – How do we show mercy to those that hate us, despise us, work towards our pain and destruction? Or as it’s often put, how do we show mercy to our enemies?
The problem of Isis and Boko Haram and the countless others who mean harm to you, me, countless others needs long, arduous, and multi-faceted responses. Further, the solutions to complicated matters like terrorist groups, generally consist of a series of solutions. And this is among the reasons such awful situations take too long, if ever, resolving.
This is also why when someone says, “We ought to bomb them all!” most of us do not see this as an actual helpful solution. Abandoning the concept of law and generalizing everyone in a particular locale as a terrorist worthy of the same death is a mass genocide. So no, this is not a legitimate solution and arguably just as evil as what we are trying to respond to. Further, it’s an extremely insensitive statement that feels birthed by the thought, “I just wish there was no more evil in the world. It just complicates life and it’s hard to fix really and it hurts my head …”
The world contains evil and actual complicated problems. I’m sympathetic to feeling exhausted by the seemingly endless news of suicide bombs on buses and in markets and in houses of worship. I loathe the news of the many children and women, angered over the lack of appropriate responses from powers nearest the atrocities, and grieve the countless other threats that are reported. If feeling, or confronting, fear and paranoia is not in your mind, then you may not be paying attention.
I am also frustrated when people tritely say, “We need to do what Jesus says and love our enemy.” Well, I think so too but what does that look like? If it means patiently waiting until evil people deciding to stop murdering the defenseless then I’m going to have call that out and say I think we are misunderstanding Jesus here. We cannot love our enemy by looking the other way as they attack our neighbor as it’s clear that we are to love them also.
From the perspective of the Church, we pray, we lament, we act as conscience, as reconcilers, as peacemakers, as protectors and as justice-seekers. There’s a lot of paradox in this and may we seek God for wisdom, courage and discernment.
From a government power perspective, the very minimal first step is to confront the ongoing evil by protecting the defenseless. This might take on the forms of negotiation, force or other creative solutions (and likely a combination of all the above) but an immediate response to prevent further persecution and savage murdering is the first step. Further, this is part of what it means to act in mercy – mercy for the defenseless.
The second side to this demands we look back at the original question, can mercy be shown to the oppressor and if so, what would that look like? It helps me if I move to the best/worst case scenarios. So if “bombing them all” is worst case, what is the most merciful best case look like concerning terrorist groups like Isis and Boko Haram? To me that best case scenario is that terrorist groups will stop their violence (whether by outside force/coercion or internal forfeit) and take up a better narrative for life that will allow them to interact with the world that serves the common good.
I do not want evil doers (wether would-be terrorist or local pedophile) to be destroyed out of vengeance. What I really want is for their evil to be confronted, ceased, appropriately punished, and if possible, invited towards a path of redemption. As a believer of justice, law and pursuing what it means to be a global citizen, I find this to be logical. Further, I find this to be consistent and instinctive with the Biblical narrative.
Now I’ll be the first to point out the great difficulty and the impracticality of this. I too have a hard time seeing a young “indoctrinated freedom fighter” waking up one morning and saying, “Let’s not do this anymore. We’re hurting, exploiting, murdering people, merely for our own power. Hey guys, let’s circle up, I’ve got something to say ….” Whether misguided or well-founded, most people do not change their ways until their hope is found unwarranted. In this case it feels confronting the evil-doers narrative is the second part and most mercy-filled response, again, after/while protecting the defenseless.
Which then brings us back to some of the questions we should return to. How have we been shown mercy and how can we show mercy to others? What evil in our lives must we confront and seek mercy for?
One of the brilliant features of Jesus’ command of loving our neighbors and loving our enemies is it shows us that no one is beyond the scope of mercy, and further, that love is the greater power over hate and evil. Further, this moves us away from only caring about our own lives. This reveals another paradox between being faithful with our lives and also living with a spirit of sacrifice. Which points these thoughts to Jesus’ journey to the cross. The cross shows us love, life, forgiveness, and among much more, it shows mercy of us, our others and includes our enemies. May we be faithful with such a story.
May the persecuted receive God’s mercy. May the persecutor also experience God’s mercy. And finally may you and I live as worthy examples of this type of love.