“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
On September 13, 2016, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in the New York Times that, “coordinated action at the United Nations to cut off the funding for ideologies of hate and extremism” is needed along with “a willingness from the international community to investigate the channels that supply the cash and the arms” to terrorists. He concluded with an appeal to “join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and violence that threatens us all.”
Exactly one year earlier, On September 13, 2015 the US Central Command officially reported that Iran is specifically responsible for killing at least 500 American soldiers through the use of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a speech in Japan this year James Mattis, US Secretary of Defense told an audience, “As far as Iran goes, this is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
Earlier this month, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for two co-ordinated attacks in Iran’s capital Tehran, the first attack targeted Iran’s parliamentary building and the second attack the shrine of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first Supreme Leader, killing 12 people and injuring 42.
Both of the attacks employed the use of suicide vests and small arms. According to a report from the Iranian Interior Minister the attackers disguised themselves as females. They entered the Parliamentary courtyard and began to shoot innocent bystanders indiscriminately. Three of the attackers were killed by guards from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) before they were able to detonate their bombs. One suicide bomber was able to detonate his vest and kill several people.
The second attack was conducted by two vest laden suicide attackers at the public mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the cleric who was the first supreme leader of the present-day country of Iran. One attacker detonated his suicide vest, but security forces shot the second would-be bomber dead before he could detonate his bomb. Eyewitness accounts put a third, purportedly female, attacker at the site although this was not corroborated by official accounts. ISIS proudly took credit for both of these tragic attacks. (Janes 6/2017)
So what you have read so far is that Iran’s leadership has declared that the International Community must join hands to put a stop to terrorism. The US leadership has declared Iran as the number one sponsor of terrorism in the world. Thirdly, that this month there was an ISIS initiated terrorist attack on Iran, the alleged number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
My question to you, based on what we read above, concerning the tragedy in Iran is– “How do you feel when your enemy is suffering at the hands of your enemy?” There is an interesting German word that describes what can only be described as a very human response for this kind of dilemma, Schadenfreude, i.e., malicious joy. It is actually a word used at an academic level for the kinds of feelings one has when his enemy is caused pain by one’s enemy. It can literally mean, glee at your enemy’s misfortune.
This is an easy attitude to have. It is free. It costs you nothing. Are you guilty of Schadenfreude? When you heard about the bombings in Iran and the deaths of those 12 Iranian people, did you feel a tinge of malicious joy? Did you think even for a moment that they got what they deserved? I suspect that if we were all honest with ourselves, it is easy for us to feel Schadenfreude.
Are we called to be joyful when our enemies are suffering? Is this the behavior of followers of Christ? Let’s see. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,..” (Proverbs 24:17) It is hard to imagine it being any more clear than that. I could probably stop there…
Why? Why love our enemies? Why love people who are causing endless amounts of pain all across the world today? How can I love people who are causing such suffering?
I can think of several reasons:
- We are told to love our enemies. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:44-45) Why do we love our enemies? -So that we may be children of our father in heaven. Clearly, God loves terrorists. As a matter of fact, I am convinced that he died on the cross for them. He calls us to love our enemies, because He loves them.
- They are humans like us. Terrorists are human beings. It is easy to de-humanize them. In so doing we can treat them differently. We can justify our hatred and anger if they are monsters and not humans like us. God’s word will not allow us to get away with that kind of hyperbole. We are told that we must love them.
- We must forgive. Martin Luther King Jr. in his sermon Strength to Love posits that forgiveness is the decisive factor in how much you can love your enemy. Your ability to love is directly proportional to your ability to forgive. I have to ask myself regularly, how much have I been forgiven? Am I willing to forgive that much? It is what separates us from the rest of the world. If you are unwilling to forgive terrorists, you have little hope of ever being any better than them.
- We must pray for them. I bring us back to the passage in Matthew 5:44. “…pray for those who persecute you.” “Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want something good to happen to them.” There’s a way to pray both for justice and for the hearts of those committing injustices. You may pray for their salvation. You may pray that they will repent. You could pray that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good. If you have hate in your heart for somebody, maybe you could begin with “God, I hate that person, and I don’t want to.” As C.S. Lewis has said, “[Prayer] doesn’t change God—it changes me.” “Praying for your enemy opens you up to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart.” (Piper)
- Support those who minister among those you consider your enemies. There are a lot of people who invest their entire lives to help those you may consider your enemies. Support them though your prayers, your time and your resources. There are organizations such as Frontiers, Pioneers, CRU, World Relief, Greater Europe Mission, e3 Partners, International Mission Board that all do amazing work among these peoples bringing hope, peace and grace into their lives.