Pray continually for the rest of humankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil may be found among you, but that with complete purity and self-control you may abide in Christ Jesus physically and spiritually.
-- Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians
These words flowed from the pen of a man about to be martyred, executed, for his Christian faith, not by one who was merely ridiculed at the office for being a 'Jesus freak.' They came from one who knew first-hand the vile hatred of those opposed to the Way, not just one whose delicate sensibilities were offended because some judge ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments plaque from City Hall. They were written by one condemned to die for following Christ Jesus, not by a contemporary Westerner who has never truly suffered want of anything.
Because of his life, his unwavering faith, and his heroic death, I am compelled to take Ignatius' words very, very seriously.
I must confess that my gut reaction to persecution and hostility is NOT the same as Ignatius’. When I see videos online of ISIS executing Christians, my instinct is to want to wipe them off of the face of the earth for their barbaric ways. Then I take a step back and realize that my instincts–to imitate these beasts–are just as fallen, sinful, and barbaric as they are.
Ignatius’ words rebuke me. Instead of imitating terrorists, I need to imitate Christ. Instead of responding to hatred with hatred, I ought to respond with love, mercy, and pity. Perhaps through the witness of meekness, weakness, and humility the gospel might shine through and reach them, because a witness of violence and anger will only go to reinforce their wicked beliefs.
All this is not to say that nations should not defend themselves from wickedness such as this. I believe nations have a duty, a responsibility, to look after and protect their citizens. What becomes problematic is when I begin to assimilate personally the duty and right granted only to nations–and am filled with hatred toward those threats and even find smug satisfaction in planning their demise.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.