I was a senior in high school when the terrorist-drivenairplanes hit the World Trade Towers. I will never forget the shock I feltas the news continued to go from bad to worse. One plane. Two planes. Anotherhit the Pentagon. One more in Pennsylvania, saved from their destination in thenation’s Capitol by the last-ditch heroics of the passengers. We all rememberthe broad sweep of emotions. What I remember most was the overwhelming sadnessof what we had lost. Anger, too, was building up as we could not process suchan unprovoked act of violence.
Amidst all the sadness, there is one prayer by a man fromGermany that I will never forget. It was not Luther, Niemoller or evenBonhoeffer who prayed. It was an exchange student named Stephan.
Stephan was living with our pastor and his family, who had ason about our age. My brother and I would give the pastor’s son and Stephan alift to school in our dad’s ’88 Bronco II. We had started to get into the bluesat the time, and we had gotten our hands on a George Thorogood disc. Now, Georgeis known for his drinking songs and that is about it. Stephan, having beenbrought up on Hefeweizen, would join in the family band, belting out lines like, If you don’t start drinking, I’m gonnaleave. I have to be honest, most of the fun was drowning out the piousprotests of the fourth passenger.
It was the day after the terrorist attacks that ourschoolmates gathered at the flagpole to pray. Some prayed for justice to bedone. Others prayed for a swift end to any conflict to come. Still othersprayed for the families of the victims. For a collection of teenagetheologians, we were doing a pretty good job. Then it was Stephan’s turn tolift up his voice. His words stick with me today.
Lord, I pray for thoseresponsible for the attacks. I pray you would be merciful to them. I pray youwould forgive them. I pray you would make them your own.
This was a different kind of love. This was something beyondthe normal scope of our concern. This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer laid it out:
Tothe natural man, the very notion of loving his enemies is an intolerableoffense, and quite beyond his capacity: it cuts clean across his ideas of goodand evil. More importantly still, to man, under the law, the idea of loving hisenemies is clean contrary to the law of God, which requires men to sever allconvection with their enemies and to pass judgment on them. Jesus, however,takes the law of God in his own hands and expounds its true meaning. The will of God, to which the law givesexpression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.
Sure, that sounds very spiritual and all, but what if yourenemy is really bad, like Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin? Is therea point that our love for our enemies comes to an end? To represent my favoritenon-biblical teacher in the right light, we should note Bonhoeffer was not executedfor being a good citizen; he was executed for trying to assassinate AdolfHitler. Can we hear Jesus tell us: love(our) enemies and pray for those who persecute (us) and reinterpret that tomean: hate your enemies and those whopersecute you? Can we call ourselves followers of Jesus and take a starklycontrary position to Him on such an important matter?
Just a few months ago President Obama told us the manbehind the tragedies of 9/11 had been killed. “Justice has been done.” We allwatched as the crowds around the White House lawn celebrated in familiar chantsof “USA, USA!” The past 10 years of our men and women—my generation—searching for this rogue had finally come to a conclusion. We can allunderstand the jubilant, proud chants of victory that seemed to spring up likewater from a well of emotion. The word “closure” has been used in nearly everyinterview from basketball coaches to civic leaders.
But these reactions are disturbing as they are natural.
We serve a God who loves His enemies. Yes, hell is a realplace. Yes, Jesus said at the end of time that He would lock away anybody whorefuses to follow Him into hell and throw away the key. Yes, justice isimportant in the economy of God. We cannot minimize or overlook the real sufferingthat Osama bin Laden has wreaked on God’s own image-bearers. God will get bloodfor his evil—either from the cross (we do not know bin Laden’s final thoughts)or on his own head. That same standard applies for all of us. We serve a Godwho destroys His enemies.
This same God has told us time and again that he takes nopleasure in the death of the wicked. He desires all men to be saved and come toknowledge of the truth. Jesus loved even Judas, knowing his black heart.Ultimate victory, for God, does not mean He will dance about the graves ofHis enemies. The same should apply for us today.
We are all enemies of God, or have you forgotten Genesis 3? Youcan go willingly, as a P.O.W. turned servant turned son, or you can go fightingdown to your dying breath. Either way, God will win.
Life in Christ sometimes bears little resemblance to what wewould expect. That is what we get for following a person instead of a set ofrules. There is no prescription in this life—simply a homeless, wanderingrogue teacher who calls himself “Healer.” We follow His voice and leave our actions to His judgment. Itis like Bonhoeffer said as he awaited his death: The responsible man delivers up himself and his deed to God.
In the end, mercy and justice are not at odds. Our call isto be sober because of justice and rejoice because of mercy.
And we will put our lives in the hands of God.
Casey Hobbs is loved by Jesus and taught byDietrich Bonhoeffer, like others simply trying to hear God’s word fortoday and speak it. He blogs about the application of the gospel toeveryday living at http://caseyhobbs.com. Casey lives in the Seattle area.