Bombs are falling on Syria.
U.S. bombs are falling on Syria. Bombs we paid for are being used by people who represent us to kill people. For good or for bad, those are the facts.
The people targeted by these bombs are our sworn enemies. Given even the slightest chance, they would do us harm.
They have shown themselves to be our enemies by their public statements and actions, including the evil and atrocious beheadings of innocent journalists. Those are also facts.
When we talk about Syria, we’re talking about land traveled by Abraham and Jacob, Jonah and Paul – land that literally bears the footprints of our faith.
How are we then, as Christians, supposed to respond to such a conflict? How do followers of the Prince of Peace respond to violence, especially when that violence seems so justified?
First, we should repent.
For every time our thoughts turn to violent anger and vengeance, we should repent. For every time we say, “I hope they get what’s coming to them,” we should repent.
For every time we curse those who behead our fellow citizens, we should repent. For every time we do anything but love our enemies, we should repent (Matthew 5:43-48).
Every member of ISIS is a child of God. Every member of ISIS is someone for whom God hung on a cross. Every member of ISIS is somebody God is willing to forgive.
God loves every member of ISIS as much as God loves you. God would leave every single one of us who remain in the fold to recover and restore even one who has gone astray (Luke 15:1-7).
Second, we should mourn.
As Jeremiah mourned the destruction of Jerusalem, we should mourn the destruction of Mosul, Iraq, and Aleppo and Damascus. We should mourn the deaths of every individual and the displacement of every family.
We should mourn the hunger and thirst brought on by resources diverted to evil enterprises.
We should mourn for every bomb dropped, every bullet fired, every insult hurled, every heart darkened. We should mourn (Lamentations 2:11-12).
Third, we should pray.
We should pray for our leaders and their leaders. We should pray for our soldiers and their soldiers. We should pray for our people and their people.
We should pray for an end to war and violence and death and destruction. We should pray for peace and the rule and reign of God on this earth now (Matthew 6:10).
We should pray that God will forgive all of us for the roles we play in perpetuating systems of violence.
Fourth, we should actively seek peace and encourage processes and systems that lead to peace.
Violence begets more violence. War is the worst way to establish peace.
Our government may be justified in its actions in the Middle East. Those actions may even be necessary. But Christians will never be justified as cheerleaders for war.
Instead, we should seek for ourselves and others – by peaceful means – governments that promote justice, fairness and shared prosperity; legal systems that promote human dignity and uphold the sanctity of all human life; economies with the power to eliminate the misery of human poverty and disease; and leaders who promote reconciliation instead of fanning flames of prejudice and hatred.
In short, we should actively pursue, for every person on this earth, systems and processes that lead to peace (Matthew 5:9, 39; Isaiah 2:1-4; Matthew 26:52).
As followers, brothers and sisters even, of the Prince of Peace, we have a responsibility to resist the temptation toward violence and vengeance, the temptation that draws us away from love of neighbor.
Instead, we are to embrace an ethic of love that leads us even to love of enemy, so that instead of being overcome by evil, we can overcome evil with good (Romans 12:9-21).
Today, and always, we pray for peace.
Matt Sapp is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Fellowship in Canton, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Heritage’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MattPSapp.
Matt Sapp is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia.