Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seeing Christ in Osama bin Laden

My inner 19 year old is making it very difficult for me to be part of grown up church this month.  She just would not simmer down during Synod Assembly, where she kept saying, "What is it with all these gendered references to God?  Why so much 'God the Father?'  What is up with that?  What year is it anyway?"  (if you want more details, see this blog post).

Last week, at church we got into an intriguing discussion.  Part of our individual church's mission statement says that we will see Christ in all.  Until last week's discussion, I always thought that was a no-brainer, that it meant that we see Christ in everyone:  believers, atheists, people from other faiths, everyone.  But from the discussion we had last week, some people interpret that differently.

One of our members said, "But I can't see Christ in all, because Christ isn't in all."

I had never thought to head that route.  Are we put on Earth only to minister to those who have already found Christ?  The alternate (new to me) line of thought seemed to be that we see Christ in the people who have asked Jesus into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior.  Otherwise, Christ isn't there for us to see.

I may talk about some of what we talked about in later posts; we tried to talk about how we behave to others and how that may or may not be changed based on some of our interpretations of Christ's teachings.  The thoughts I've come back to again and again were prompted by this question:  "Could you see Christ in Osama bin Laden?"

Our group was divided, but most of us didn't want to travel deeply into that conversation.  My inner 19 year old immediately screamed, "What part of 'Love your enemies' don't you understand?"  But my grown up self tried not to say the hurtful things that my inner 19 year old went on to say in my head.

But really, does the Bible say we should treat the Osama bin Ladens of the world as we would treat Christ?  Really?

I would have to say yes.  I think the 4 Gospels are fairly clear:  we are to treat everyone as if they might be Christ in disguise.  Yes, even Osama bin Laden.  Reread Matthew 25.  Jesus is quite clear that we will be judged based on how we treated the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the ones with no food.  We might protest that Jesus only means for us to take care of the outcast members of our society, not the true criminals.  I would not agree.

These thoughts feel scary enough that I may not explore them much further here; I don't want to be put on some sort of no-fly list or worse.  If you're one of the 12 people who come to this blog on a Sunday, go ahead and laugh at my grandiose visions of the U.S. government monitoring me and my simple blog.  Stranger things have happened.

So, in the interest of being perfectly clear, I am not supporting terrorism or suggesting that we should.  I do think that we need to pray for the terrorists of the world, that terrorists are in more need of our prayer than most people.  If you look at a church's prayer list for any given Sunday, you could make the argument that plenty of people will be praying for the people on that prayer list.  Who will pray for those who seek to destroy us?

And back to the original question about seeing Christ in Osama bin Laden.  Here's a thought that may strike you as even more radical:   if they were aware of him at all, most of the people of Jesus' time would have seen him as an Osama bin Laden figure.

Go ahead and howl in protest, but here is how I came to that conclusion.  Jesus was crucified.  The Romans didn't crucify just everyone.  They had a wide range of death-as-punishments:  hanging, stoning, beheading.  Crucifixion was reserved for those who were seen as enemies of the state.  Clearly, based on his death, someone (probably many someones) higher up saw Jesus as a revolutionary, a terrorist.

We now see Jesus as a revolutionary of a different sort.  If we truly followed the teachings of Jesus, we'd turn the world around in all sorts of ways.  The Roman Empire knew that; that's why Jesus had to be killed.  But the ideas that he gave us through his teaching did not die.  Those of us immersed in Christianity sometimes forget how radical the teachings of Christ are.  Of course, they're only radical if we do what Jesus commands.  But take a minute to imagine it.  If we transformed the world that way, to a world where everyone is treated with dignity, a world where every living human has enough, perhaps we would see terrorism disappear. 

Until then, as we work on that transformation and wait for God's ultimate redemption of creation, we can pray for those who are driven to terrorist acts, no matter the reason.  We must pray for them.

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