By a Media team member
While living in the Islamic world, I had an English student who required some extra tutoring. This young man would come to my office before class to get assistance on the finer details of this difficult language. One day, he shared with me that he, his brothers and a cousin would be going that week to execute revenge on another cousin who had stolen a vehicle from his father’s business. Rahim* spoke matter-of-factly about the weapon they would use, the method of execution and the importance of blood being spilled. This, to him, was the only way that honour could be restored to his father’s name. Blood had to be spilled. I trust my face didn’t display the horror my heart was feeling as he talked.
As calmly as I could, I expressed my concern about how this way of handling conflicts would simply perpetuate further clashes.
His response was, ‘But you don’t understand our culture, teacher; you don’t understand our deen (religion).’
As we discussed the situation further, I asked, ‘How does your father feel about this?’ to which he replied, ‘My father is soft. He doesn’t think we should do it, but we see no other way.’
I told him, ‘I think your father is wise. He can see a history of blood spilling that has failed to resolve issues… and he sees forward to the clashes that will continue.’ I suggested that perhaps he should consider his father’s wisdom.
Throughout our discussion, I shared my own personal story of betrayal, disloyalty and revenge. I told him how it had prolonged the lack of peace in my life, how it had led to further negative consequences and continued battles. I also shared how the cycle finally dissolved one evening when I turned to God, asking for and receiving a profound forgiveness that led to an amazing peace of heart, which then enabled me to forgive those who had wronged me. I tried to help Rahim see that revenge does not resolve the deeper issues of life, and that the pathway to peace with others is through forgiveness.
To my joy and relief, the next day Rahim told me that they had changed their minds. Thankfully, they had decided to follow his father’s wisdom and had stopped the plotted revenge.
As we look at the news headlines and see the destruction being wreaked upon the people of Iraq and Syria, including the immolation of a Jordanian pilot by a system of destructive evil that has moved throughout their lands, how do we respond? Do we join the crowds of Jordanians shrieking for revenge? Does revenge bring resolution?
In contrast, we have seen numerous examples of Middle Eastern Christians who have responded with forgiveness to the destruction around them. The Palestinian Christians of Gaza opened their churches to their Muslim neighbours during the bombing of 2014, providing them with a welcoming place to pray, and even a meal to break their Ramadan fast. The Egyptian Christians, whose churches were burned, responded with graffiti saying, ‘We forgive you and love you.’
Of course, world events of war and destruction have much greater implications, and I, as one individual, don’t have the answers to the challenges of nations at war – or humans who believe in a destructive ideology and carry out their belief by destroying others. I’ve pondered much about how to stop a force for wickedness that has generated millions of displaced refugees, destroyed homes and lives, and that is destroying nations. I have cried many tears.
But as one who has received the forgiveness that leads to peace with God, I know that revenge is not the answer. A system that teaches revenge and allows no room for forgiveness is a system that will continue to destroy both the person and the society in which they live.
As we pray for peace in the Middle East, let us pray that God will draw each person – whether he or she is an IS fighter or a fleeing refugee – to himself. Let us pray that they will experience the forgiveness that comes from God, through Christ – forgiveness that brings peace that passes all understanding.