Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections. It appears here verbatim.
(Adapted from the author’s article published in the Savage Pacer, September 29, 2001)
As perhaps nothing else, unjust suffering exposes the heart. In recent days we have witnessed this maxim in unprecedented ways.
On September 11, terrorist acts submerged our unsuspecting nation into a cauldron of shocked disbelief, bitter anguish, seething anger, and gnawing uncertainty. These acts also wrenched open a window into America’s soul that had been painted shut for a long time. Passions of patriotic zeal, life-sacrificing courage, and fraternal compassion—all of which typically flow undetected below the surface of the American spirit—were suddenly exposed.
This exposing of America’s heart will certainly continue into the future, and not always with satisfying results. Our suffering has already surfaced individuals in our society who display an infantile inability to distinguish criminals from law-abiding citizens within the strictures of any racial or religious group other than their own.
But perhaps the most poignant revelation of the heart will be witnessed in our response to those who are responsible for, and rejoice in, our suffering. Divine counsel prepares us for this test along two distinct lines. The first is addressed to God’s people, the second to our government.
God’s People. Jesus did not mince words concerning how his followers must respond to their enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil’ …You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies… ’” (Matthew 5:38-44).
The apostle Paul wrote: “Repay no one evil for evil … never avenge yourselves … for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21).
Some argue from these passages that the only legitimate response to unjust suffering is to “forgive and forget.” But it is vital to recognize that not exercising vengeance and granting forgiveness are separate matters.
God is just. He does not merely overlook sin, he judges it—all of it. God is also forgiving; but because he is just, his forgiveness of sin is granted only after the exact requirements of his uncompromising and holy justice are fully met.
God met the requirements of his just wrath against evil by sacrificing Jesus Christ in the sinner’s stead. It is on the basis of this act that divine forgiveness is granted, not arbitrarily to anyone, but specifically to sinners who repent of their wrongdoing and embrace God’s gift of forgiveness (Romans 3:21,25-26; 4:5; Acts 2:38).
To forgive, then, is not to arbitrarily excuse wrongdoers. Forgiveness must follow both justice and repentance.
Accordingly, Jesus did not instruct us to forgive our enemies. He called us to love them. If repentance is forthcoming, forgiveness must be granted (Luke 17:3-4). But in any event, love is the appropriate response to injustice.
How do followers of Jesus love people who commend acts of unspeakable horror—who deceive and murder with cavalier indifference? We do not “forgive and forget.” Rather, we die for them. We sacrifice our lives in the interest of the proclamation of forgiveness in Jesus.
We fly to other lands to aid missionaries knowing there is a price on our head as we travel. We let our children and grandchildren go overseas to proclaim the gospel in hostile lands. We lay down money, release time, and lift prayers in support of this mission of love.
Government. God’s ordaining plan does not end with the decree that his people love their enemies. After admonishing his readers not to take vengeance against their enemies, Paul writes:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but … if you do wrong, be afraid; for he [the governing authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4; cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14)
Governments who seek out and punish terrorists are acting, whether they acknowledge it or not, as God’s agents to curb evil. God knows, as our citizenry has been forced to acknowledge since September 11, that evil cannot be ignored. It must be physically restrained.
Armed with an attitude of love for our enemies, we must never rejoice with glee if our armies begin killing people. But our nation has a God-ordained, moral obligation to avenge the blood of those who died at the hands of terrorists. She has an obligation “to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
This is not a lovely undertaking, but this is not always a lovely world. We must have the moral resolve to act as God’s agent or the lunatics will soon rule the asylum.
What will suffering reveal about us? God’s people must have the resolve to go into hostile lands and lay down their lives in the dissemination of the gospel. Our soldiers must have the resolve to go to hostile lands and lay down their lives in the cause of freedom and justice. And those who remain behind must send them willingly, support them diligently, and pray passionately for their success, to the glory of a God of both infinite love and unmitigated justice.
|Dan Miller has served as senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church (Savage, MN) since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (Owatonna, MN) with a B.S. degree in 1984. His graduate degrees include an M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Dan is married to Beth, and the Lord has blessed them with four children.|