Today a friend of mine posted the following status on Facebook:
21 beheaded, 45 burnt and now 90 Christians abducted by ISIS. I have a struggle within my own mind. The human side of me boils up in anger wanting God’s immediate wrath to be poured out on these people. However the Spirit reminds me I too was an enemy of Christ (Romans 5:10) and also reminds me of Jesus words “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44). SOOOOO conflicted but praying for His Spirit to be strong in my weakness. Praying that my brothers and sisters stand strong in the face of Satanic persecution and that even those who persecute, torture and kill my brothers and sisters will be convicted by the testimony of these Saints and repent and follow the one true God and King.
I think a lot of Christians are going through the same internal struggle right now. How do we pray in accordance with the will of God in this situation? How do we control the anger boiling beneath the surface? I have the same struggle.
I’m also wrestling with this theologically.
Specifically I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile Matthew 5:44 and Revelation 6:10.
On the one hand we have Matthew 5:44, a clear command of Jesus that we should love and pray for our persecutors. (Side note: All of this conversation seems a bit disingenuous because I am not being persecuted.) If this were our only command of how to pray or example of prayer in Scripture than it would seem that the only godly response would be for us to pray for the salvation of the persecutors.
On the other hand, we have Revelation 6:10. This records the prayer of actually martyred Christians. This could very well be the prayer of the 21 beheaded Christians. How do they pray? “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” I feel like a lot of Christians these days would chastise their prayer. “Don’t pray like that! Pray for God to bless, don’t look for his vengeance!” But God doesn’t chastise them. Instead he gives them white robes and tells them to wait a little longer.
In addition to Revelation 6:10 we have the “imprecatory” prayers in the psalms and God’s promise in Joel 3:21 – “Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? No, I will not!”
I don’t want to be in a place where I disregard Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:44, but I also don’t want to find myself disagreeing with God in the event he does take vengeance on his enemies.
I don’t want to be like Jonah who hated when God showed mercy to the Ninevites. But I also don’t want to show contempt for the prayer of the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10.
So how can this tension be resolved? Perhaps we’re meant to live with this tension as we face evil. But I do think that both Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies, and the saints prayer for vengeance can be reconciled in the justice of God.
God is justified in showing mercy to his enemies. He is justified because Christ took the punishment for us. That is why I who was once his enemy can be saved by his great mercy. God is justified is saving ISIS. If he does, I should give him glory for his mercy and justice.
But God is also justified in taking vengeance. It is His right to take (not mine) and when he carries it out it will result in his glory. If and when he carries out his justice, whether it is swift through a human military force or deferred until the Final Day, I will give him glory, knowing that he is able to carry out justice perfectly.
So I pray for God’s justice. “Lord if you have vengeance, you are justified. If mercy, you are justified. May your will be done.”
I also pray for the protection on future would-be persecuted Christians. “Lord protect them, either by saving the persecutors or by taking them out.”
Finally, I pray for the persecuted. “Lord, give them strength and grace in this hour of great need. Make them brave and Christlike. May they stand firm as they receive the crown of glory due.”
One final note: I feel much safer praying like Jesus command in Matthew 5:44 and that’s because I know my own heart. How can we pray Revelation 6:10 without hate creeping in and corrupting our soul? I’m sure it is possible otherwise we wouldn’t have this prayer in Scripture, but it is surely extremely hard to do.
Bottom line: When all else fails in our prayers it is best to go back to the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “You’re kingdom come, you’re will be done.”