When we hear of the appalling activities of ISIL in the Middle East, it is not exaggerating to say that we are witnessing one of the most barbaric episodes in modern human history. We are also left with a big question as to what our response should be.
Last week, the brother of two of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIL presented an extraordinary message of grace to the killers. Beshir Kamel thanked ISIL for including the men’s declaration of belief in Jesus, saying it had strengthened his own faith. When asked if he would forgive his brothers’ murderers, he said that his mother would open her home to the men, and ask God to open their eyes. He even prayed for the men involved, asking God that they would ‘be saved.’
And in Iraq, a young Christian refugee told a TV reporter she hopes God will forgive ISIS. Myriam, whose family fled their village near Mosul when the militants moved in last year, was asked by a journalist from the Christian station SAT-7 if she would want to retaliate to the group. “I won’t do anything to them,” she replied. “I will only ask God to forgive them.”
The BBC reported on a video made by young Egyptian Christian, Anne Alfred. The video, calls for forgiveness and peace instead of anger and hate, and quotes the words of Jesus, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
The common thread running through all of these stories – and others like them – is this remarkable notion of forgiveness, even in the face of unspeakable horror. People who’ve lost their families and homes, whose lives have been changed forever, are expressing grace, forgiveness and peace to the very people who caused their pain.
We cannot underestimate the power of forgiveness. In the face of brutal radicalism, forgiveness is an even more radical response, and is beautifully illustrated by Bishop Angaelos, who said: “When it comes to crimes perpetrated against us, there is only one way forward, and that is to forgive. If we don’t forgive what do we have? Retaliation, resentment and anger, but no solution and no closure.”
Let us join with these people, uniting with their hearts in Christ, and pray for forgiveness for ISIL, knowing that this is not only following what Christ would do, but also, through our prayers and forgiveness, there is power to change lives and even bring a halt to the atrocities through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The same God who changed the heart of the apostle Paul is able to do far more than we can even ask or imagine in changing the hearts of others like him.
Luke 23 vs 34: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”