We’ve seen that Christians in Australia are in a state of war. Spiritually, we’re called to constantly resist the evil one through the resources God has given us, notably prayer and the gospel (and especially prayer for the gospel, see Eph 6:18-20). People of whatever political or religious alignment are not our true enemies, but the spiritual forces behind them. And we do not wage our warfare as Christians through physical violence.
Yet, politically, we live in a nation-state that is engaged in physical military combat with an armed, flesh and blood enemy force. As citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, we can say that the artists-fraudulently-known-as Islamic State are our country’s enemies. We can even go further and say that their actions have made them enemies of humanity – the foes of any person or people who have not ingested their vile, poisonous and extreme form of ideology.
There are plenty of ways in which we need to keep our spiritual enemies and our country’s enemies in separate categories. As I’ve already explained, the Christian’s real enemy will always be the spiritual forces behind the extremists. The Church’s priority should be wrestling “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” without getting distracted by perceived human enemies. The State’s priority should be fighting legitimate combat operations against hostile elements that threaten peace, security and stability – yet it is powerless to stop the spiritual forces behind them.
But is there a meeting point between these two aspects of warfare we find ourselves touched by? I want to propose that there is.
In the last post I suggested we pray: “for the decline of radicalised Islam as a spiritual evil in our community and around the world – that it would lose its grip on the hearts and minds of those it controls.” That is part of our responsibility as Christians: it’s appealing to God to address the spiritual evil behind the physical atrocities and injustice. Better yet, we can pray that our Heavenly Father’s name would be hallowed in Iraq and Syria and His Kingdom would come there and His will be done there as it is in Heaven. Islam, particularly this form of it, is a demonic tool to keep people made in God’s image bound under spiritually oppressive control. Only God’s rule coming through the gospel can replace that – otherwise we may see something not unlike Jesus’ description in Luke 11:24-26 come to pass in these countries.
But we should not only pray for the fall of radicalised Islam and the triumph of the gospel. I believe we should be praying for the military defeat of ISIS and all its affiliated groups. I do not say this out of malice towards a particular race or creed, but because of my conviction that this abominable destroyer of children, women, the elderly, the marginalised, Yazidis, non-compliant Muslims and Christians must neither be allowed to continue perpetrating its hideous attacks on innocent people, nor given any further opportunity to indulge in the delusion of a caliphate or state by holding onto the territory it has captured.
We should pray for the success of the Australian military and their allies and for our leaders to have the courage, conviction and tenacity to do whatever is necessary to stop this wickedness from terrorising the region.
We should pray not out of blind support or fervent patriotic pride, but out of compassion for those who have been butchered, raped, assaulted and subjugated to the barbaric rule of the monstrously inhumane fanatics that have conquered the land of thousands of people. We should pray not out of a bloodthirsty desire to see our enemies shot and blown to pieces, but out of a thirst for justice and a demand that the blood of the weak would no longer be spilled.
And we should pray that ISIS can be stopped and rendered inoperable with as little loss of life possible – especially the lives of non-combatant Iraqi and Syrian civilians, and our own military forces that are acting to protect them. My greatest hope is that many of the young men involved with ISIS will become disillusioned with Islam and begin to disband, so that its power disintegrates. As a Christian, I’m not adverse to the idea of those guilty of bloodshed facing justice for their crimes in this life, whether on the battlefield or in the courtroom. But I do hope that God in His mercy might prolong the lives of many guilty jihadists that they might have an opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the gospel and repent of their sins to gain eternal life in Christ.
Of course this brings us to the heart of the contentious issue at hand: to pray for mercy (i.e. the mass conversion of ISIS militants) or pray for justice (i.e. the mass defeat of ISIS militants)? That is the question.
Because both are so important, I think our prayer must simply be for God to act. For surely like God we must take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) and desire all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). But with the Psalmist we must ask God to break the arm of the wicked, call them to account, help the afflicted, fatherless and oppressed and end the reign of terror by evil men (Psalm 10:15-18) and with the martyrs we must long for the day when God avenges the blood of the innocent and righteous upon the wicked (Rev 6:10) – even if that day is someway off.
The Sovereign God is able to show mercy to whom He wishes to show mercy, while leaving others to face justice for their sins against Him – either now or at the day of judgement. So let us pray for Him to act, trusting that He will save many of the perpetrators and victims of the crimes against Heaven and humanity that are occurring in Iraq and Syria, through the cross of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But at the same time allowing for Him to display His justice in this world by destroying the lives of those who continue to rebel against Him despite His daily long-suffering and kindness towards them.
It may be a hard reality to live with. But then war tends to have that effect…