The German chancellor, Angela Merkel (second left), with other politicians lays flowers near the spot where a truck ploughed through a Christmas market on Monday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
This morning I cried as I took time to reflect upon the recent ISIS terrorist attacks in Berlin as well as Turkey and the Middle East. As I did so I recalled a few of the lines of the Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. “And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men. Then, there is the message of hope. “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
Our kitties, William and Catherine, saw their kitty daddy was sad. They came on each side of me purring and letting me pet them. The love of our furry animals brings comfort when we need it most. They helped put a smile on my face and in my spirit.
Terrorists want you to be consumed with hatred. They take delight in causing maximum damage to your hope. What does Scripture say we are to do to our enemies? The apostle Paul says in the book of Romans we are to heap coals of fire in the form of acts of love upon them, leaving room for God’s wrath. “Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’…. these are God’s words: ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’. Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil. Take the offensive—overpower evil by good!” (Romans 12:19-21, J.B. Phillips New Testament.
Paul was later put under house arrest in Rome for the spreading of his faith and belief in Christ (Acts 28:17-31). Here we see him boldly doing the thing he was arrested for as he moved the hearts of the Roman soldiers, who were his enemies. In his actions as he lived each day they saw the love of Christ shining from him. There must have been days when doing this was so tough, especially as the chains he was in caused him such agonizing pain, and the swelling of his hands, making writing extremely difficult. With all this suffering he chose God’s path of loving his persecutors.
I know. It’s far easier said than done to pray for those who inflict physical and emotional wounds upon you.
It is understandable to hate all terrorists. I confess there have been times when my rage at their actions consumed me. In my humanity I wanted them not to be killed. I prayed for them all be captured and put in an 8 x 7 foot prison cell, much like Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison. If we look at how he acted there we see an example of the toughest calling we have – to love our enemies, and pray for those who hurt us. He won the guards over with a character that did not seek revenge. That’s not the way he was when he was first imprisoned. He had his soul eaten away bits at a time like gnats by the way his fellow people were being treated with beatings, murder and imprisonment.
Mandela realized if he let hate erode his love, he would always remain in prison.
The missionary, Corrie Ten Boom, was approached by a former guard at Ravensbruck, a Nazi prison concentration camp. He asked her forgiveness for his cruelty towards her and her sister, Betsie. They had been put in prison for hiding Jewish people. A clerical error caused Corrie Ten Boom to be released. I share her thoughts about that encounter.
“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a cap with skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush—the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! That place was Ravensbruck, and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,”—again the hand came out—”will you forgive me?”
And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.
But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust out my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.”
[Holocaust Victim Forgives Captor, Citation: Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Berkley, 1978), pp. 53-55]
Pope John Paul II forgave his assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca . It took time to get to that point, but he forgave him.
Terrorists want you to demand vengeance for their barbaric actions. I urge you not to give them that satisfaction. Keep heaping coals of God’s love upon them. Darkness cannot be defeated by love, though it will try to to with all the hostility it can unleash.
To stand for love in a world of increasing hate will gain you enemies. It may cost your life as it has with so many people.
The message of Christmas is to love others, which includes those who are our enemies. If those who have committed evil don’t repent their destiny is clear – hell not just here on earth, but for all eternity. I would not want to fall into the hands of a vengeful God. That is where all terrorists are now who persist in their hatred, and teaching their children to hate.
We defeat the terrorists by continuing to be people of love. it’s the hardest thing to do, especially when others hurt you by what they say and do. The path of Christ’s compassion for all isn’t easy. It calls us to love in those times when hate is the strongest in us.
Keep the message of Christmas alive every day – the love and hope of Christ in you. That is the one thing darkness cannot defeat, if we keep that love shining each day like a beacon light of hope in our hearts, now into eternity.
Kevin and Karen Osborne are Christian pastoral counsellors and psychotherapists. Kevin is studying to become a chaplain and professor of Psychology specializing in Pastoral Theology. We have started You Can Hope Again Counselling. Karen enjoys doing cross-stitch while I like writing and singing songs. Karen makes me laugh when she sings the kitty bed-time song saying, “It’s that time. It’s the bestest kitty time of the day!” Kevin enjoys teasing the kitties and making them do kitty dances with music. Their kitty, Catherine, loves it when kitty daddeh sings All Things Bright and Beautiful. Kevin likes doing impressions. He tells children’s stories and helps others with their problems using his hand puppet, Dr. Teddy, who is a therapy bear. He is a partner with us in our counselling practice.We are available to assist with worship and preaching to give busy pastors and ministers a much-needed break. We offer in-office, and phone counselling to anyone in the world.
Co-author on Mind’s Seat, a Christian inspirational blog