Tuesday, February 17, 2015

IS and grace

A group of militant Muslims identifying themselves as part of the Islamic State (IS) beheaded 21 Christians that they kidnapped back in December and January.  On the shores of Libya, in Africa (only 300 miles from the shores of Italy) they recorded the deed on video with the title: "To the Nation Signed with the Blood of the Cross."

Yes, that is a threat aimed at Italy and all of Europe.  They refer to them as Crusaders.

So what is IS doing in Africa?  Aren't they from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon?  At first they called themselves ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).  They grew.  The US government tried calling them ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).  They outgrew this title as well.  Now they call themselves the Islamic State.

Apparently IS is taking up shelter in Libya - a nation who is so unstable right now that two governments are claiming legitimacy in two parliaments.  No one is coming for IS on the shores of Libya at the moment because they can't.  And apparently Italy has no response ready either.  Matteo Renzi - the prime minister of Italy - shook his fist and talked about retaliation and retribution but quickly backtracked the day after calling on the UN to do something.

That may be because as of right now Italy has 5,000 troops ready to do something of this magnitude.  Not the kind of numbers you want going into something like this.

So how do we even begin to deal with this?

The more we practice retaliation and retribution the more it comes to visit us.  I hear a lot from those who would love to just 'nuke em' and be done with it.  A lot of criticism of world leaders for not rolling up their sleeves and going in there and obliterating the jihadists.  

On a heart level I totally agree.  I wish this whole thing was as easy as sending in large numbers of soldiers and weaponry that would expunge the entire area of extremists.  Bomb them back to the stone age.  Crush those that are evil and wipe them clear off the face of the Earth.  It would be great if we could live in a reality as black and white as that . . .

My head has a series of questions about that.  Isn't that what we thought we were doing when we started the war on terrorism?  The more involved we get the more we get drawn into revenge and revenging the revenge.

It reminds me of the God of the Old Testament that gets routinely chided by intellectuals who can't believe in a God who would be so barbaric.  Like Isaiah says in chapter 5:20-21

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
 What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever.

And on again in verse 25 . . .

 That is why the Lord’s anger burns against his people,
    and why he has raised his fist to crush them.
The mountains tremble,
    and the corpses of his people litter the streets like garbage.
But even then the Lord’s anger is not satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike!

We are uncomfortable talking about a God who punishes evil and has to pronounce judgment but we are perfectly fine cheering on a squadron of planes from Egypt who respond to these violent acts with their air strikes.  Evil like IS reminds us that we are ultimately unable to rid ourselves of the darkest parts of our humanity because we are so caught up in it.

And yet at the crux of this verse is Isaiah is the image of God's hand not yet punishing.  He is still patient.

Evil is something that has to be purged from us from the outside - and that is why we need judgment one day . . . but more importantly grace for today.

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