One of my friends at Patheos, Rebecca Hamilton, recently wrote a post about the monstrous actions of the Islamic State in the Middle East, and noted that she prayed for the conversion of the Muslims.
Someone commented on this, to another Patheos blogger,
I could barely get past “I prayed for the conversion of the Muslims”, a statement as oppressive as anything Isis has done.
The comment stuck in my head. I wonder what the commenter thinks “the conversion of the Muslims” entails? Are they picturing squads of combat evangelists in full body armor parachuting in to the Islamic State, massive Bibles in hand, and smiting everyone who won’t immediately bow down and accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior? Do they imagine hordes of Christians offering their enemies the opportunity to convert or die?
But that’s what our enemies are doing. That’s not what we do. That’s not what any Christian should do.
I’ve seen this attitude before. If I say, “I wish you were a Christian,” a certain type of mind hears, “I want to force you to be a Christian. I want to take over the government, and use the coercive power of the state to make you act the way I think you should.” But I’m not saying that. I’m simply saying, “I want you to be a Christian.”
And I do want that. I want you to be a Christian.
Let me lay it out for you.
- I believe that eternal life with Jesus Christ is the ultimate good for any human being.
- I believe the alternative is considerably less pleasant.
- I am commanded, as a Christian, to love those around me.
- If I love someone, I seek their good.
- Their ultimate good is eternal life with Jesus Christ.
- Therefore I seek that.
I know someone out there is sputtering, “How dare you! Who are you to decide what my ultimate good is?”
Quite so. It is not my role to make your decisions for you. But as it is my belief that your ultimate good is found in Christ, a good that infinitely excels any created thing, it’s my job to do what I can in that direction—because the alternative is to complacently watch you toddle off to Hell. (Contrary to what you might have heard, Christians don’t like the idea of people going to Hell.) I cannot decide for you. I cannot force you to learn to value Jesus Christ above all else, even though that is the end for which you were made.
So what can I do? For those in my immediate vicinity, I can try to actively love them as God does, and to see to their needs. I can donate money to various charitable causes, loving those in need at second, third, and fourth hand. And I can pray.
And so I pray. I pray for you, that you will taste and see that the Lord is good, and will follow that insight to the end, which is, natch, eternal life with Jesus Christ.
And so I will pray for our enemies, those agents of the Islamic State who are beheading children, forcing populations out of their home, and killing men and women in mass quantities.
I pray that God will stymie them and that their evil plans will come to naught—and that my country will do what it can to bring that about.
I pray that God will bless the families they are oppressing, and lead them to safety.
But I also pray for them, for the killers, that God will bless them—yes, that He will bless them with what they truly need, which is repentance, and conversion of heart, and that ultimately He will lead them out of their monstrous ways to Himself.
There is precedent for this. Jesus did not condemn his killers, but blessed them; and tradition’s name for the Roman soldier who thrust the sword into Jesus’ side is St. Longinus.