Word Problems, Part 2

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(Sorry for the continuation of this topic for another week but it has really been on my mind a lot lately!!)

In Indianapolis, Indiana in November 2015, evil once more was proven to exist. We actually didn’t need any more proof of evil – most people believe and know to their core that evil is real and present. Occasionally though, evil shows itself in unbelievably vile and ugly ways just as exclamation points on the persistent fact that it is present and very much part of our world.

On November 10, 2015 evil presented itself in the home of an Indianapolis youth pastor while he was at the gym for a morning workout. Evil in the form of a group of thugs, of monsters, broke into his home and robbed, raped and killed his wife – who was pregnant with their second child – while their other child slept in an upstairs bedroom.

This, of course, is not the only example of evil in recent memory. Unfortunately, evil presents itself on daily basis in all corners of our world. Acts of the most vile and heinous evil are committed with ever increasing regularity. Thankfully, for the vast majority of people they will only have to agonize over the thought of these evil acts and will never have to experience them in person. For the fortunate majority who will never experience true acts of evil, such as that family in Indianapolis endured, the question is, “what should be our (specifically in this conversation, Christ Followers) response to acts of evil?”

If we just use the Indianapolis case as a “what if” scenario, what would have been a reasonable response to the invasion of evil that entered into that home? The young woman and unborn child who were murdered unfortunately weren’t given an opportunity for response… so what should be the response of the husband and young child who were left behind in the wake of the acts of evil men? What about the response of the neighbors around their home? The response of fellow Christ Followers who loved and adored this family? Certainly no response will ever undo the evil that happened… no response will take away the pain… but what is our calling as followers of Jesus to be in response to such acts of evil?

Many believers will tell you the only response a true Jesus follower can have is to forgive the perpetrators. Let me say that yes this is true but you have to understand forgiveness in context. Extending forgiveness is different from extending clemency. Does that make sense? Clemency is pardoning someone from punishment. For example, a governor of a state or the President of the United States may choose to extend clemency/pardon to someone for a crime they committed. This in effect gives the person a clean slate. It’s as if the crime they committed never existed. They are excused from paying for their crime. God has extended us forgiveness and clemency from paying the ultimate price of sin that separated us from Him. He gave His Son on a cross so that we never had to face eternity separated from Him. I believe in that and am so grateful for it. But even His clemency does not serve us as a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card here on Earth – nor should it – nor would He want it to do so… I mean what if that was the forgiveness that we as humans extended to one another on Earth? In other words, someone murders someone, and as long as they say, “I’m sorry!!” immediately after they commit their crime then they are free and clear of any repercussions… of any punishment. I think we all understand that that would not work. It wouldn’t work because no one would ever have to face any consequences for their actions and our world would quickly descend into utter chaos and evil.

Forgiving someone for the acts such as the ones committed in Indianapolis require us to forgive if we believe in Jesus but not to excuse them from consequences of their actions. Two thugs, monsters, have been arrested and will be tried for that young woman’s torture and murder. If they are found guilty, I, without one ounce of compunction, hope they receive the maximum penalty available in Indiana’s court system. If it is life in prison without parole I hope and pray that the funerals of those two 20 something year old men are held one day in a prison chapel after they have reached a very ripe old age in their prison cells. If it is the death penalty for them I hope and pray it is carried out judiciously and within the policies set out in Indiana. I hope and pray those evil men choose to seek God’s forgiveness (and clemency) first so that their fate, whatever it is, does not see them escorted to a far worse punishment even than anything they inflicted on that woman and her unborn child. That is not seeking vengeance… this is understanding that justice needs to be maintained for the safety and welfare of other innocent people. Putting our arms around those monsters and trying to help them understand their feelings and getting in touch with some core issues in their lives will not save the next victims that would fall prey to their evil, perverted and completely corrupted hearts and minds. I am not thirsty for their blood, I am only hopeful that, at whatever cost, they will never be able to shed another drop of anyone else’s.

But all of that surmises around what has actually happened… that they committed evil and were caught days later and now await their trials… But what if they had entered a very different scenario where it wasn’t just a young woman they encountered but a young woman and a husband who had been armed? Would Jesus have said, you must not use force to stop these killers from their intended acts of violence because you must never injure or take the life of anyone? There are certainly many who say that very thing. A pacifist would say they would put themselves between the attackers and their intended victim but they wouldn’t take a chance of injuring or wounding the attackers because they wouldn’t risk taking another human life. Christian pacifists would say that Jesus commanded this lifestyle. I have several pastor friends (who I fully admit are much more advanced academically than me and they are far more eloquent than I am – probably smarter too…) who would absolutely, unequivocally, authoritatively assert that Jesus demands a pacifist life if you are to be a true follower of Him. And when I read what they write in their blogs and in their articles and in their posts on social media, I am completely convinced that they are completely, fundamentally wrong.

And I already feel their condescending stares and their smug tsk tsk tsk at my lack of understanding… But I feel good standing with a guy like C.S. Lewis. He didn’t believe Jesus was a pacifist either.

Jesus does say many things about living a peaceable life centered around loving others, forgiving our enemies, putting the needs of everyone ahead of our own, not repaying evil with evil, not seeking a tooth for a tooth/ eye for an eye… the list is long and undeniable about who Jesus called us to be and how He instructed us to live – peaceably and lovingly… But the problem pacifists will have in convincing me that those teachings rise to the level of pacifism…  are the other things Jesus said that they will not point to… Read the first part of this post here for those things.

It’s inconvenient for those who declare Jesus’ instruction to be one of pacifism to have to accept the reality that we have to take ALL of His Words, and all of God’s perfect and inerrant Word and accept it in its totality. Picking and choosing from a menu is always so much more convenient in life but the Bible is no menu. It’s one narrative, purposeful and woven together intricately. You cannot take only the parts you like and discard the rest.

If Jesus had demanded we never raise our hands in defense of ourselves or anyone else, He would have said it just that way. His disciples would have echoed it in their writings. If it was a condition of our salvation I absolutely know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He would have said so clearly.

Without hesitation I can tell you that if anyone were to ever lay a hand on my family, or attempt to do so, if I have breath in my lungs and power in my limbs to move, it most likely will be the very last act of evil that they ever attempt. That actually extends beyond protection of my own family… in any instance that I am able to stop evil from gaining ground, of harming the innocent, I will intervene and use whatever level of force necessary to stop them. I raise my son to feel confident in the same level of desire to protect those who are in danger.

And much to my pacifists friends’ assumptions that since I refuse a pacifist lifestyle I cannot possibly be a true follower of The Christ… all I can tell them is that I love Jesus. I love His teachings. And I follow Him to the very best of my heart and soul… and one day when we all know the true answer to this argument… I promise not to High Five Jesus and yell, “TOLD YOU SO FELLAS!” :)

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Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are ever in the area – stop by and say hello! Weekend service times are Sundays at 9:30am and 11am!

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