by Douglas Cooper, May 12, 2016: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).
September 11, 2001, the unfathomably evil nightmare of terrorism exploded into our consciousness like a fire-ball from hell. Our peaceful world was shattered, changed permanently. It was a threat to our very way of life. All at once we found ourselves at war. We were thrust into an unprecedented war against terrorism which even today appears to have no satisfactory resolution, no end in sight. After the November 2015 Paris attacks bloodbath, a gloating ISIS spokesman announced that this was just “the first of the storm.” The San Bernardino killings followed shortly thereafter. It is as if a black cloud has descended over much of the earth. Islamic extremist terrorism is a problem from hell. It is now a global menace. Powerful nations have been left reeling. Political and diplomatic efforts appear futile with an enemy so nebulous and impossible to isolate. Military attempts as a solution seem only to have thrown fuel on the fire and made terrorism more widespread and the terrorists more radical and determined. They are better organized and better financed than ever before. The harsh reality that violence cannot stop violence, that killing cannot eliminate killing, has had to be faced. Whatever nations are doing to attempt to stop terrorism is not working.
What would have happened if the United States had chosen to absorb the pain of September 11? How would it have altered the attitude of many toward our country? How would fanatics recruit additional terrorists to attack a nation that forgave its enemies? I understand how radical this suggestion seems, but I question whether anything we have done has made the world a safer and more gracious place. “Violence is incapable of redeeming our world.”1
A striking fact is that the perpetrators of the war against freedom, modernism and democracy are not godless atheists. They are religious people. They are acting for a religious cause. Their incomprehensibly malevolent acts are motivated primarily by their religious beliefs. We are fighting an extremely distorted belief system, not a country. Thus, all the military might on earth cannot solve this problem which threatens to plunge the world into chaos. It cannot be bombed out of existence. To get to the root of this crisis we must turn to spiritual insight and spiritual solutions. Our only hope in the long run are the weapons in our spiritual arsenal.
The Muslim extremists represent a sick, medieval religiosity that stands in direct contrast with the light of modern, progressive spirituality. The differences between the two belief systems could not be greater. It is like a clash of two entirely different civilizations. At the heart of the matter is the extremists’ concept of what their god is like. Here is the theorem essential to understanding this crisis: Bad theology = bad behavior. The extremists’ twisted theology presents a god who is harsh and vindictive. A deity who rejects all others as infidels who do not believe as they do. Their distorted theology teaches them that they can earn favor with God and automatic entrance to heaven as heroes of the jihad if they martyr themselves for their cause and take innocent lives in the process. They invoke this distorted god of theirs as the sanction for their mass murder of innocents. These militant radicals are trying to turn back history to the Dark Ages. Their ultimate goal is to force their archaic, dysfunctional brand of patriarchal theocracy on the modern world. They make up a terrible new army who do not pledge their allegiance to any county but to a religious cause. When will we finally get it…? This is a religious war we are in. World War ISIS, Time magazine calls it. It is not about territory. It is not about oil. It is not about race. It is not about money. It is most of all about God. Who these extremists think He is. What they think He is like and how they think He wants you to believe and behave. Consider their battle cry as they go out to kill… “Allah Akbar!” “God is great!” All of their evil actions come from their view of their god. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, was trained as a theologian and religious scholar. He believes that the Quran points to and encourages a final battle between the forces of radical Islam and the West. In a sermon he gave in 2014, he declares slavery to be the universal human condition. He said that Muslim believers are indentured to Allah, while nonbelievers are the rightful property of Muslims. The time of death for each man or woman is preordained, he announced, implying that all killings therefore are the will of Allah. One of his spokesmen, a few months later, gave this message to all ISIS supporters: “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military” (Time, November 30, 2015). Jesus warned of something like this when He said “… a time is coming when you will be put to death by misguided ones who will presume to be doing God a great service by putting you to death. And they will do these things because they don’t know anything about the Father or me” (John 16:2,3, The Passion Translation, italics supplied).
Darkness cannot tolerate the light. Evil is enraged by the truth. It has only ever had one way to deal with the light and with the truth—kill it! (See Calvary.) The extremists want to destroy everything they disagree with. They want to destroy Western democracy and modernity. They want to destroy Judaism and Christianity. They want to destroy all the intellectual and philosophical and even some of the scientific progress of the last five hundred years. They want to destroy a culture which recognizes women as being of equal value to men. They want to destroy spiritual modernity. More than anything else, this is a war between cultic, archaic religiosity and contemporary, progressive spirituality. It is truly a clash of civilizations but most of all it is a war between religious darkness and spiritual light. The fundamentalist religious extremists are intent on destroying the very principles of the Enlightenment and the spiritual renaissance. They cannot tolerate the progressive values of democracy, of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, equality, economic opportunity and political choice. They cannot abide a society that places the value of the individual above the value of a religion. The idea of a country where the people rule instead of religious leaders ruling drives them into a frenzy of hatred. It is as if the terrorists of the world live in an entirely different dimension than the rest of us. It is as if they have walled themselves off by a fanatical religious membrane through which reason, forgiveness, compassion and understanding cannot pass. If you think that force, military power, can save the world from this regressive, destructive and evil force, think again. We cannot kill our way out of this problem. We cannot succeed by fighting fire with fire. For one thing the extremists can always out-kill and out-evil us since they do not have the same moral and spiritual constraints that we do. We cannot and we should not attempt to rise to the same level of violence and hate necessary to completely exterminate this enemy. If we were to do that we would only succeed in becoming like them. “Kill them, kill them all! Eradicate them! Kill their families!” shout some of our politicians and presidential candidates.
In many different ways, through many changing and unexpected mediums the light is available to lead us out of darkness. The new, potent wine of personal, genuine spirituality is splitting asunder the old wineskins of traditional religious, psychological, political, philosophical and even scientific thought and experience. It is literally transforming the world around us. When it has led to the understanding that an individual’s personal connection with God is more essential and foundational than his or her loyalty and adherence to a particular religion or denomination it has caused the defenders of traditional religion to rise up in angry reaction. (Case in point: the critical, negative reaction on the part of some to the One Project.) It has, among the more fundamentalist religious extremists, triggered the hatred, persecution and acts of terrorism that threaten the world today. Where it has created democracy, and brought personal freedoms and liberties and a level of equality between sexes and between races that the world has never seen before, this new spirituality is fiercely being resisted by the forces of darkness through heinous terrorist acts. Yet, paradoxically, this spirituality is the very antidote for the poison of terrorism, tyranny and fear that threatens the peace and security of the world. When we track this incredible healing spirituality to its source we discover that it is the truth about God.
This profound religious darkness can only be overcome, not destroyed, but transformed by the light of genuine spirituality. If the foundation of the problem is a distorted picture of what God is really like, the only ultimate solution is for the extremists to come to understand the truth about God, for them to begin to see Him as He is. That alone is the antidote to this awful darkness. There is a light capable of penetrating even the deepest night of the soul. It alone offers hope in these dark times. It alone can counteract the poisons of fear and hatred. It alone offers healing to shattered hearts, shattered dreams. It alone holds the promise of lasting peace, the hope of a love that can overcome evil with good. At a time when it appears that mad men and demons are setting the agenda, it alone brings the assurance that God will let no evil triumph in the end. This is the light that we can turn to for hope and healing.
The real issue at stake here is the question, what is God like? What is His true character? What is the truth about Him? After all, the first war ever in the universe originated from someone who began to question that His nature was truly benevolent and to present a portrayal of Him that was not the truth about Him at all. God, in fact, was the first victim of identity theft! It was implied that the Father was not all love like He presented Himself but was someone who was harsh, authoritative, withholding and someone who played favorites. The result of this distortion of what God was really like? “And there was war in heaven.”
Jump ahead to our own planet. Created in perfection. Heaven come to earth. Our first parents enjoyed a paradise, until…someone came along who began to twist and distort the truth about what the Father was really like and called into question the nature and character of God. “He really is not who He says He is,” it was subtly implied. Doubts about His true character, questions about His unfailing benevolence, suggestions that He was withholding something good were whispered into innocent ears. And there was war on earth! Paradise was lost. There was strife between light and darkness.
Jump ahead to Bethlehem. Jesus, God from heaven in human form, came to show the world the truth about the character and nature of God so there could no longer be any doubt in anyone’s mind what the Father was really like. Jesus boldly proclaimed, “He that has seen me has seen the Father,” “I and my Father are one.” In Him people had a chance to move away from their distorted perspective of what God is like. But alas, once again the truth about God was twisted and the religious teachers made even Him out to be something unimaginably different from who He really was. They actually tried to convince the people that He was a false prophet, a liar, a blasphemer, a “winebibber and a glutton.” They actually called Jesus a sinner (John 9:24)! They eventually went to the extreme position that He was demon-possessed! “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons” (Luke 11:15). Talk about distorting His character! And this was the one of whom it is written, “God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son.” Imagine it! calling the Son of God, the one who was the “radiance of the glory of God, the flawless expression of the nature of God” (Hebrews 1:1-4), a devil! This is the extreme example of bad theology leading to bad behavior. Their wrong concept of what Jesus was like led them to see Him as an infidel and a blasphemer and they killed Him! “When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him” (John 19:6). Darkness could not tolerate the light. Their distorted theology led them to crucify the perfect God of love who had come to earth!
Ironically, the only hope for ending terrorism lies with each one of us coming to reflect the light and love of this Jesus more passionately and profoundly for the life and teaching of Jesus Christ are alone capable of healing humanity’s deepest wounds. His presence living in us by the Holy Spirit will allow us to assume His role of revealing the truth about God to the world. Mother Teresa said, “If we do not radiate the light of Christ around us, the sense of the darkness that prevails in the world will increase.” Jesus’ message to anyone who was His disciple were the challenging words, “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Now it is up to us to show people what God is really like! God is love and incredibly, He has made Himself dependent on men and women to reveal His true nature by becoming love, as Jesus was. There will be no transformation of the world around us, no end to the escalation of darkness, evil and terror, until there is a transformation of the world within us. It will happen one person at a time beginning with you and me. You and I are being called to become the change that we want to see in the world. We will always re-create around us the reality that exists within us. God is love and we are being called as never before to become that love in the world. We Christians have not been put here to warm our pews until the Lord comes. We are to be “changers” not “waiters”! It is much easier to predict the immanence of the Second Coming every time a seismograph needle trembles or a volcano blows up than it is to be about the courageous work of making the world a more loving and gracious place. I so resent those apocalyptic-obsessed semi-paranoid churchy people who delightedly pounce on every natural disaster or terrorist attack and gloatingly proclaim it as a sign of the time of trouble and the end of the world! We were not put here to be prophets of doom and despair! We are not put here to generate fear! We are, right now, commissioned to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth so God’s will “may be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is truly a revolutionary position we have been assigned. We are to be the “light of the world,” the “salt of the earth,” transformers of culture and society. We are here to bring healing to the problems the world faces, including the black cloud of terrorism. It begins with you and me as we come to understand our responsibility to show the world what God is really like. As we become the love that He is. The foundation of the kingdom of heaven is love. Our hope is for that love to come to earth as it is expressed through you and me. Jesus’ most revolutionary teaching was when He proclaimed, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43,44). Here is the only weapon that can defeat the terrorists. Of course, this is totally impossible for us to do by ourselves. It is only the Spirit of God that can give love for hatred. On the cross Jesus didn’t just win our salvation. His death opened the Holy of Holies and released the Spirit to be able to come and live inside of us and makes us hosts for Divinity, hosts for Divine love. “…the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). Here lies our hope. Here is the light and love that alone can defeat all darkness. Love alone will win.
1Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland, If God is Love (San Francisco: Harper, 2004), 267
Dr. Douglas Cooper is the best-selling author of eight books and a family counselor and Seventh-day Adventist minister living in Angwin, California.