On August 7, 2015, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria captured a group of Christians from a village near Aleppo, whose name is withheld for security reasons. The group was comprised of eleven missionary workers, including the twelve-year-old son of the ministry team leader. Although they were not required to stay in the village, and the ministry director who had trained the workers had even suggested for them to leave, they chose to stay anyway. As the Islamic State (ISIS) and other rebel groups took over several villages, the ministry workers decided to remain in those villages to help the survivors and share the gospel.
On August 28, the ISIS militants asked the Christian workers if they had renounced Islam, replacing it with Christianity. The workers answered in the affirmative, and refused to convert back to Islam in order to save their lives. In response to this, the Islamic extremists cut off the fingertips of the boy and began to beat him, claiming they would stop if his father would return to Islam. They also tortured two other ministry workers. All of the Christians refused to renounce their faith, and the three men and the boy were crucified. Later that day, the other eight were taken to another part of the village and asked questions before a crowd. Two women asked what they had done wrong to deserve abuse, saying they only wanted to share the peace and love of Christ. The extremists publicly raped the women and then had all eight beheaded.
This is just one of many violent incidents that have occurred because of ISIS, and the violence is not only directed towards Christians. As of September 25, 2015, the Islamic State has executed more than 10,000 people, including women and children, in Iraq and Syria. 1,858 of all those executed in Syria were civilians. 98 of them were women and 76 were children under the age of 18. ISIS has killed civilians, Syrian soldiers, rebel fighters, and even its own fighters when they violate ISIS’s twisted laws.
These are only a portion of the shocking statistics. My purpose here is not to provide information about what is going on in the world, since that can be found in many other sources, but to bring up some questions for all Christians here in the West: How should we respond to the news of such violent and immoral acts? Should we be praying for the destruction of ISIS fighters or for them to see the truth in Jesus Christ?
Many people have said that the problem is simply too complicated to handle quickly, and that no simple solution is in sight. Others say that if there is a God, He would not have allowed such destruction to take place, and therefore He either doesn’t exist at all, is dead, or simply doesn’t care about us and what is happening in the world. If God is loving and merciful, why does this happen? We should not ask this question. Rather, we should be asking: What have we, the human race, done to ourselves? We are destroying ourselves! When God created people in His image, He gave us the gift of free will. And since God is perfect and because He did not create evil, it is only logical that many evil things happen in the world because we use our free will the wrong way.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man.’ By this ‘unity of the human race’ all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ – a state and not an act” (CCC 404).
Using the free will God gave us, we can choose either to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior or to reject Him. Let’s use an analogy. Imagine you are climbing a mountain, and that you feel like you’ll fall unless someone helps you. Imagine Jesus standing at the top, throwing down a ladder for you. Now you must choose to grab the ladder and climb, or ignore it and fall. If you accept Jesus, you will be saved, but if you reject Him, you cannot achieve salvation yourself. In other words, we are sinful human beings unable to redeem ourselves before the eyes of God; we need Jesus to save us. What God can do is lead us in the right direction, but ultimately it is our decision whether or not to listen. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, our very nature has been corrupted, and we have a tendency to sin. However, the choice is still freely chosen, because no one is born objectively evil, just as no one is born predestined to hell for eternity.
Even though terrorists are often described as “inhuman” beings, we must remember that all people were created equal; and that we are sinners too, though perhaps to a less extreme degree. The people involved in awful terror groups such as ISIS have free will just as we do, and had the ability to choose right over wrong – if they hear and accept God’s calling. We must help them. We must pray for their conversion and help them see the truth in Christ, before it is too late. In fact, we have a moral obligation to do so, because Jesus told us to love everyone, even our worst 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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
It is very clear here: destroying our enemies is not a very Christian way to react to violence! In the same chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Jesus would not approve if we retaliated against our enemies. He didn’t express hatred of the people that crucified Him. That’s because God is Love, and Jesus loves everyone. He died for us sinners even though we really didn’t deserve it. So we should follow Christ’s example by loving and praying for our enemies.
In conclusion, the terrorists involved in groups like the Islamic State are not evil people; they have just used their free will in the wrong way. Instead of declaring war on them, we should pray for them to help them overcome their past mistakes and learn their lesson. Many saints started out as terrible sinners but changed their ways after their conversion. One example is the conversion of St. Paul; this shows that God can change the heart of any sinner, even someone who persecutes His Church! God calls us all to be saints, so even the terrorists can become better people. If we love our neighbor as ourself, we should not wish for harm upon them. Therefore, I believe we Christians in the West should pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are being persecuted, as well as for the terrorists’ conversion. This way, as we help both our friends and enemies, we are obeying Jesus Christ’s command to love everybody, whether they are saints or sinners.