Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.

 

#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)

 

#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15

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Mark Beuving
Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.

17 COMMENTS

  1. In your first sentence you mention the bombing. You forgot to mention the 3 people murdered by these men. You also forgot to mention the many people maimed by the actions of these two terrorists.

    I also missed the part where we are to pray for those who are suffering because of their murderous actions. That is a wide net. How about the guy who isn’t sleeping in the hospital tonight because his leg was blown off.

    Pray for this terrorist. Sure. Pray that he repents.

    So then you say: “Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

    And. “Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.’

    Please don’t check your brain at the door. What do you mean by inflicting harm? Harm to the evil doer? So you mean like if he needed to be shot to be restrained? Or if he is given the death penalty?

    You will find in Deuteronomy 21:21 ” The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.

    and 1 Corinthians 5:13: God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    What would you have done with Hitler? Should we have just shown him love? How about the man that is starving thousands in North Korea? Show him some love too?

    If I had the ability to kill the first terrorist before the MIT murders, I would do it. I do believe the God of Israel would support me in removing the evil from our midst and protecting innocent people. There is a word for this called justice. It doesn’t need an adjective in front of it. Just like in the bible. Being just and protecting the innocent is a very Christian thing to do.

    For further reading I suggest you read “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.”

    • Mark, thanks for sharing. I don’t at all appreciate the hostility in your tone (“don’t check your brain at the door”), but you do raise some important issues.

      I actually did mention the victims: “We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath.”

      If it’s helpful, I can expand on that. We shouldn’t just say, “Oh, what’s done is done, let’s forgive them. No harm done.” To the contrary, immense and irreversible harm was done. But what I’m saying is that wishing him physical harm in response to what he did is a cheap way of “making up” for what has happened to these victims, and I find it hugely disrespectful to them that you would suggest that wishing them harm would somehow take the sting out of what happened. If you read it carefully, I said that God’s justice is perfect and complete, and that the judgment that awaits someone like this (if he refuses to repent) is infinitely greater than what our harsh response could inflict.

      I said nothing of capital punishment or the use of violence to stop a certain threat. I actually made reference to Romans 13 to show that God uses the government for such purposes. If you read it carefully, I was only talking about the way we as Christians should respond to this person.

      But if the Hitler question or the pre-emptive strike question are on your mind, one of my colleagues has written an excellent series of posts addressing exactly those questions:http://facultyblog.eternitybiblecollege.com/series/christians-and-violence-series/

      • Hi Mark,

        I apologize if my tone was sounding hostile. It was not my intention.

        I did not see the word repentance in your blog used once. He will be forced to turn from his wicked ways because he has been arrested. Thank God.

        I think it is a good thing to rejoice in his arrest and that the other terrorist has been stopped. Maybe you think I am stating the obvious but the students I speak to don’t make the connection. They use the word love to mean many different things.

        We are all “dirty rags” and need forgiveness.

        BTW – I am 45 and work with students who completely miss this. We are using your book “Multiply” weekly.

        On another note: I had no idea that EBC promoted pacifism. What a shock. I just read the link you provided.

        I, of course, take issue with Preston’s assertion about being a pacifist sometimes. Being “kind of” a pacifist is like being “kind of” pregnant. You are either a pacifist or you are not.

        pacifism: the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under anycircumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peacefulmeans.• the refusal to participate in war or military service because of such a belief.

        Unbelievable that you folks assert Christians should not be in combat. Tell me how those who terrorize should be stopped?

        Wow!

        Anyway, may God Bless you and may we agree to disagree.

        • Thanks for clarifying, Mark. It’s not always easy to communicate on the internet, so I’m sorry I misread your tone.

          In any case, I think it’s important to clarify that I, too, am glad that the suspect is in custody. I don’t think that God would have encourage villains to continue their wickedness. I think the whole idea of “blessing” and “praying for” our enemies has a lot to do with their spiritual state, which absolutely means repentance. But that’s one of the craziest things about the passages I cited. God’s not saying, “Bless them once they repent,” he’s saying to bless our enemies. That’s the crazy thing. So our natural hatred of this man and what he has done only further qualifies him as the kind of person God would have us pray for. I don’t think that comes naturally to any of us, which is why it’s so important for us to hear.

          For the record, Eternity Bible College doesn’t officially teach pacifism. Our faculty, staff, and board have a variety of views on that issue. As you read, Preston advocates non-violence, but he’s actually careful not to call himself a pacifist (maybe he’s gotten more careful since those posts, I can’t remember what he says there), because of exactly what you did there. A pacifist believes that all fighting is always wrong. But Preston would argue that we absolutely have to fight for justice. He would just say that the way we fight is entirely different than the way the world fights.

          For example, you asked, “how do we stop terrorists without violence?” I’m sure you’re not meaning to say this, but this would imply that you believe that violence is the best way to stop violence. But the passages I used in the post are teling us to do the exact opposite. Don’t overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good.

          From a human tactical standpoint, I can’t explain how loving someone is going to stop them from inflicting harm. Maybe it won’t. Likely I will be killed for “turning the other cheek” rather than laying him out cold after the first blow I receive. But Jesus tells us to turn the cheek and overcome evil with good. Ultimately, I have to believe that God is stronger than any military. I have to believe that his means of fighting evil are better than those of our government.

          It’s a huge issue, and as you said, we’ll likely have to agree to disagree. But it’s pretty harsh to say things like, “unbelievable that you folks assert…” That’s not the best way to foster helpful dialogue, or to arrive at a better understanding of what Jesus meant when he said those things.

          Anyway, these are difficult matters, and I’ll be the first to admit that these biblical commands don’t make a lot of sense. How could humble weakness defeat the evil power that continues to plague our world?

          • Hi Mark,

            Again, so sorry for sounding harsh. Your dialogue is clear and good. I assumed that this blog was put out by the school. The “unbelievable” part comes from my belief that the Church is being swallowed by leftism ever so slightly on a daily basis. It is my belief that leftism is the biggest unnamed and growing religion in the world today and I don’t want it swallowing the Church.

            Regarding Preston’s post: I am not a war loving Evangelical. The “unbelievable” part in my comment comes from this is: “I became—and in many ways still am—a pacifist. In short: I don’t believe that the Bible endorses the use of violence by the church or by individual Christians…” I think this is wrong. Thank you so much for clarifying EBC’s position on pacifism. Again, I believe it is a good thing to fight evil. This of course doesn’t mean violence must be used, but if it is the only way to stop evil, I think it is required of us. Violence was used to stop both of these guys.

            I so appreciate you stating: “I think the whole idea of “blessing” and “praying for” our enemies has a lot to do with their spiritual state, which absolutely means repentance.” For my students sake, it needs to be stated. They don’t do a very good job of reading between the lines. Most of my students get indoctrinated daily by leftist thought from university and are very confused in the nature of evil or if it even exists.

            You say, “Anyway, these are difficult matters, and I’ll be the first to admit that these biblical commands don’t make a lot of sense. How could humble weakness defeat the evil power that continues to plague our world?” Yes they really are difficult. Thank you for your transparency. I don’t think humble weakness will defeat these evil power but a mighty powerful Jesus will.

            I really struggle with praying for North Korean leader Kim Jong I, the keeper of the world’s largest concentrations camps and starver of his people. Just have to be honest about that. Dr. Kermitt Gosnell could also be on that list. My neighbor who hurt me comes a little easier. Pray for me! Good stuff Mark.

          • Good thoughts, Mark, and I love the transparency. And I admire your desire to help your students think these things through rather than simply swallowing the ideology that is thrown at them from all sides. I think this whole discussion is helpful, and “talking” this out more helps us understand each other, and hopefully, understand the Bible better. We definitely don’t want to be leftist just for the sake of it, nor non-leftist just for the sake of it. We want to be biblical, and follow Jesus wherever he leads. And since we’re prone to misunderstand these kinds of things, further clarification is not just helpful, it’s necessary to keep us process these things in healthy ways.

            Thanks for taking the time to weigh in so much.

        • Mark, I appreciate several things you’ve raised in your responses. Thanks for your very challenging thoughts! Always appreciated here at EBC, especially on our blog where we like to think out loud.

          Now, regarding your issue with pacifism, I have much to say. Too much, actually, so I’ll be brief. Here are a few snippets to consider:

          1. Countering violence with more violence doesn’t always work. (That’s the way the world usually does it, and…how’s that working so far?) In fact, violence doesn’t usually work to lessen evil. Most often (not always, but usually) stopping violence with violence leads to more violence. We got Hitler, but then we got the cold war which lead to many millions of civilians being killed.

          2. Most people don’t consider the dozens of dictators and evil regimes that were “taken out” through non-violent actions, AFTER violent means were shown to be unsuccessful. It’s historically inaccurate to say that non-violence doesn’t work against evil.

          3. Biblically, Jesus never advocates violence as a means to confront evil. You don’t need to be a pacifist–most of my friends aren’t–but the burden of proof rests on you (if you’re a Christian) to say that Jesus would want people to use violence to stop evil. He never does. He talks about confronting evil. He talks about violence. He lived in a very violent world. But Jesus NEVER says that Christians should use violence to stop evil. Whenever the topic of enemies is brought it, we are to love them. Again, you still may not be a pacifist, but to dismiss nonviolence as ridiculous carries with it no–or, let me say, very little–biblical weight.

          4. There are over 20 different versions of pacifism (most of which I find offensive, by the way). So it’s wrong to say that either you’re a pacifist or you’re not. The pregnancy analogy is terrible.

          5. Back to Hitler, why should he get a bullet to the head? What’s the criteria? He killed masses of people? So do abortion doctors. Should we kill them too? Is it the numbers? Or how about supporting dictors? America has supported (many times installed) ruthless dictators over the last 100 years, leading to the death of over 6 million innocent civilians. Should the church strap on vests and bomb Langley and D.C.? This is all ridiculous, of course. No, we shouldn’t blow up the capital. Point being: who gets to determine who should be killed? What’s the criteria?

          I believe God does. And God says “vengeance is mine, I will repay” and therefore I don’t need to. My love of my enemies is governed by my trust that God will judge evil in the end. And He didn’t put in in my hands to judge evil now.

    • Beuving’s tone is entirely appropriate since he is writing to a church which is tempted to identify with American society rather than to understand itself (as Christ requires) as an alien people with no allegiance to any kingdom or cause but Christ’s. God will not forget the people murdered by terrorists, but neither will he forget the man murdered by the Boston police, and neither should his people.

      Christ has given us (and gave Bonhoeffer, though he ultimately wavered in his reliance on them) better tools than violence for combating evil. When Jesus steps in to protect someone from being killed, he does not resort to violence. (Jn 7:53-8:11) What is beautiful about the Romans 12 passage is that it clearly articulates the principle that Christians cannot resort to a “lesser” evil to stop a “greater” one (e.g., kill Hitler). Rather, we have a perfectly good God who teaches us to do good and thereby to defeat evil. This is indeed a great challenge, but there is no way around it for the Christian.

      If you could go back in time and “kill the first terrorist before the MIT murders”, don’t you think that Jesus’ command would apply to you, to “put away your sword”? Don’t you think that his judgment would apply to you, that “those who take up the sword will die by the sword”? Don’t you think that he would rather heal your victim (as he did Malchus’ ear) than see him killed?

      • Josiah,

        I am not a pacifist. I think that Jesus would want me to protect the innocent and use force (governmental preferably) to do so.

        How did we stop Hitler and free those in concentration camps? With what you call violence. The word violence is not evil. I would contend that lack of violence in many instances is worse.

        violence: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or killsomeone or something.

        I am curious. Are you suggesting that violence is always bad?

        • Mark,

          If the only thing that could stop the Third Reich was the Allies, then who was left to stop the Allies? The many nations who rebelled against the British Empire believed the same as you, that only violence could stop evil. Terrorists who cannot see any other way of fighting the evil that is the United States of America are thinking the same way. Every government and every rebellion that ever has been or that ever will be justifies itself in this way. But Christ, whose government alone is good and eternal, will smash them all. (Daniel 2:31-45)

          And in the meantime, Christ has taught us how to use goodness to fight evil, instead of using evil to fight evil. I do indeed think that violence (by our shared definition) is evil. By healing the injured and raising the dead, Christ has shown us that injury and death are evil (which indeed we know from Genesis and Revelation and everything in between). How then can we think that Christ would want us to injure or kill, especially when the Gospels tell us that he has in fact (by word and example) commanded the opposite, that we should put away our swords and love and heal?

          So it is a lack of faith and nothing else to say that only violence could have stopped Hitler. WWII is not the story of the triumph of good against evil, but only of the triumph of one set of evils over another. Christ and Christ alone can and will stop evil, and we cannot serve him with evil.

    • Mark G.,
      I’m sympathetic to your anger over evil deeds and your desire for justice, but you need to be very careful about not allowing that anger to help you justify your own desire for vengeance. You are seriously abusing both Deuteronomy 21 and 1 Corinthians 5 by completely ignoring their context. They do not apply to these recent events because they were very specific commands to specific groups of people at specific times. The verse you quote from Deuteronomy was intended as a law for the nation of Israel at that time, and not for America today to punish terrorists. If you read the preceding verses, you will realize that it was actually a command for parents dealing with rebellious children. Do you believe parents today in the church specifically, or in America in general should stone their children to death for being disobedient? The verse in 1 Corinthians 5 is directed to the church and is for the purpose of the church judging within itself to remove people from the church who are being destructive because of their sin. You appear to be equating America with the church in the way you are quoting those verses. They have nothing to do with violent retaliation by a Christian against people who are not Christians.

      Also, you seem to assume rather quickly that “removing the evil from our midst” means killing someone!? There are many ways to “remove evil” and “protect the innocent” without killing another person, even if that person is guilty of murder. Paul himself was guilty of being complicit in the murder of Christians before his conversion, but God had a plan to redeem him and make him into a witness for God.

      I would encourage you to read the words of Jesus again that Mark quoted and take them exactly as Jesus says them, instead of trying to use other verses out of context to support your desire to kill terrorists instead of pray for them as Jesus commands.

      • Where exactly do I desire to kill a terrorist? Not my intent to writing. I think we need to fight evil. I think we need to pray that are enemies repent.

        I also think that we should rejoice that one terrorist has been captured and the other stopped.

        How about an essay on Jihad in the name of God?

        I wholeheartedly support justice by our government and rejoice that it is there. In this country, I am thankful that we vote for our government and discussions about how these things are handled are very much our business.

        Bottom line: It’s a good thing to fight terrorist. It’s a good thing to protect the innocent. It’s a good thing to celebrate when they are captured. It’s a good thing to pray for these terrorists, that they repent too.

        • I apologize if I misunderstood. After your initial argument, you said in your final paragraph “If I had the ability to kill the first terrorist before the MIT murders, I would do it. I do believe the God of Israel would support me in removing the evil from our midst and protecting innocent people.” That sounded like the conclusion to your argument about the need to purge evil. It sounds like I agree with you on most everything else you just said. Thanks for clarifying.

  2. Hear hear. And one reason to go a bit further than Beuving’s last point:

    [Jesus said:] “To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, he is the one to fear.” (Luke 12:4-5)

    “Those who kill the body and after that can do no more” refers in the Lukan context specifically to the state (v. 11), and in our context to terrorists and police both. As Beuving points out, the state pursues its ends in a different way than the Church. But I would go a bit further to say that that difference is not morally neutral, and that we must regard the state’s option as evil. God in Christ is calling humanity to respond to evil with goodness rather than with more evil, and this way of being is incompatible with terrorism and with statism both.

    The command to the Christian to submit to the state is not of a different kind than the command to submit to violence in general. The Christian can (and is commanded to) submit to any violence directed against them and at the same time denounce that violence (or any violence directed against others, including the Tsarnaevs) as evil.

  3. When I looked at this man for the first time, I could hardly believe it. I did not feel hate or anger towards him. I just felt sorrow for this man. I wondered, “How could he do such a thing?”
    I believe this man needs the Lord. I pray he turns to God because God, right now, is all he has. God will have mercy on who he so will. I pray God will have mercy on this man. I pray he will turn his life over to the Lord.

  4. Amen. I appreciate this post. I’ve prayed for Dzhokhar for near an hour four consecutive days now. I don’t feel even an ounce of hatred toward him; rather, my heart breaks for him and I long to see him saved. The blood of Jesus can wash clean even the dirtiest of sinners—yes, even Dzhokhar. Keep praying, church.