Evil; hate and intolerance, is real and ugly and toxic in this world. We must overcome it. It is, unfortunately, all too common among men of and from all ages. We have witnessed this evil at home and in years past as terrorist have devastated our country. Recently, in the attacks on our embassies and countrymen abroad we continue to witness this truth, as we have in murderous attacks and violent aggression throughout the Middle East by men ranging from very young to their fathers and grandfathers, as have their ancestors before them.
This ongoing conflict is often stereotyped, and actually can be justly characterized, as the Islamic hatred of Christianity. The facts are that the terrorists originating in the Middle East, whether extremists or fundamentalists, are Islamic. Though this country may not collectively agree that we are a Christian nation, our Forefathers did use Christian principles upon which to establish and build this nation. These Christian principles were the basis for justifying our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. Again, in the Preamble to the Constitution when it is said the purpose of government is to “…establish Justice… and secure the Blessings of Liberty…” So, whether a stretch, over-simplified or true, we have established the “Islam-Christian” conflict.
Religion is often blamed for the controversy and opposition, and it is true that religious views contribute to differences in opinion. However, it is not religion that is violent, it is men. Just as it is said that ‘guns do not kill people, people kill people;’ so it is with religion. It is the person choosing to act that is responsible for the result. Religion is, in fact, mankind (hereafter referred to in brief as “man” or “men”) practicing tradition in service or [physical] action stemming from their spiritual beliefs. These choices and actions are greatly influenced by cultural perspectives, and therefore “religion” can be, and often is biased. Islam and Christianity have earned an unfavorable reputation in the eyes of many because of the misconceptions stemming from these biases founded in men’s perversion, however unintended, of Spirituality which forms the traditions and practices of religion. So it is important to note that the spiritual beliefs themselves, which are often incorrectly referred to as “religion”, and resultantly criticized and categorized as the problem, are not at fault. It is the evil practices of men; choices made and acted upon, that are to blame.
If we can choose to practice evil, there must also exist a choice to practice good. The necessity of this opposing choice is proven in the laws of nature. According to Sir Isaac Newton (an Anglican Christian), as stated in his Third Law of Motion, every force has an equal and opposite force. But even before Sir Isaac taught us this Physics lesson, the Apostle John told us of this choice; “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 11-12 ESV)
It is clear; we have a choice. It is also clear what choice we should make. If you claim to be a Christian (yes, a religion – though one based on the practices and example of the Christ, Jesus, God incarnate, not a mortal), or if you claim only to be “spiritual”, which we all must be (the philosophy of dualism championed by Descartes has been practically obsolete since the 1700s), the choice between Good and Evil; doing good or doing harm; love or hate; the choice you should make is obvious.
You cannot avoid making a choice. You cannot straddle the fence. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” (Matthew 6:24 ESV) Make no mistake, you do serve a master. Ask yourself, “What motivates me?” Are you driven by financial gain? Or maybe you’re more interested in social acceptance? Possibly you only want to ‘get through life’; survive; so you are motivated by self-preservation. Or maybe you are driven by love or altruism; you are sincerely interested in others’ happiness and welfare. When it comes down to it, we all make a choice. Our motivation in that choice is ultimately either selfless or selfish, driven by concern or disregard, love or hate, good or evil. In everything we do, we make a choice. Our choices accumulate and tendencies are established, tendencies grow to become habits, we end up serving our habits, and therefore who or what motivates us. As the Apostle Paul said, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)
No one is perfect; we all make mistakes. We all sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV) The best news in the world is that no matter how far we’ve gone wrong, we can always turn it around. No matter who were are, or what we’ve done, accepting the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, thanks to God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, we can be saved from our sins and death, the consequence of that sin. “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:24 NLT) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
Accepting Jesus changes our lives. When you realize the love of God, the compassion of Jesus in His self-sacrifice upon the cross, there is no other logical or responsible reaction other than to love in return. As in any relationship, if you love someone and know they love you, then you trust them. You trust them because you know that, in love, they have your best interests at heart. Jesus loved us all, each and every one of us, enough to die for us. In our responsive love, we trust Him. If we love and trust Him and know that he has our best interests at heart (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ~Romans 8:28 ESV), then it follows that we must obey Him.
When we obey him, we do what he says. So what are our priorities to be? “Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV)
When Jesus was asked by a lawyer “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus used the parable of The Good Samaritan to illustrate that we can be neighbors to anyone by helping those in need. Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37 ESV)
This idea of loving others, of being considerate, is not solely a Christian idea, or some new radical concept, but a widely accepted, moral practice, commonly referred to as ‘The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ However, if we are true followers of Christ; repentant and loving, our obedience shows we have overcome our sinful nature and its chains. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18 ESV) So we are obliged to obey, in righteousness, loving one another. This obligation is not bothersome because we want to obey, knowing Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
In earlier times, loving your neighbor was more literal, meaning people close by which one would interact with. Today, we have practically unlimited access to ‘our neighbor.’ In the modern world with advances in practically every aspect of civilization, man has become more capable. Our advances in technology have made us more sophisticated. Not only have our physical capabilities advanced, but knowledge, thought and reasoning; our cognitive abilities, have advanced as well. These advances directly contribute to an increased capacity to practice the principles of Spirituality. Because we are more aware of others, more exposed to their conditions, more capable of interacting with them and contributing to their welfare, we should have a corresponding increase in consideration of and lending help to them. Thousands of years ago, even in that “primitive age”, a great man said, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV) Considering the implications of that statement in light of our advances, I think it fitting to say, “With much knowledge comes much responsibility.” What, you ask, is the responsibility that is required of us by these advances in physical, mental, and spiritual capabilities? Well, King Solomon also said, “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.” (Proverbs 29:7 ESV) And he said, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31) We must reach out ever further and love.
Choose the path of love. King Solomon also said, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” (Proverbs 4:14-17 ESV)
Love is the answer. Love is the antidote. Love is the essence of good. Love is divine. God is love; "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8 ESV) “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV)
So I encourage you, in consideration of God’s word; in action, in love, let us heed these words of our LORD in applying His final directive; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)