Recently, on November 25th, Fidel Castro, the revolutionary and long-standing political leader of Cuba, passed away. Castro has a long political history, one that spans revolution, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crises, trade embargos, Cubans seeking political asylum, and more. With such a political history, one that also included much persecution and pain for large groups of people, it should come as no surprise that there are people who are celebrating his death.
I get it. America gets it.
It was also not too long ago that Obama announced to the American people that Osama bin Laden was killed during a secret military operation. Masses of American people who dealt with the horrors of 9/11 rejoiced in a sense of justice and peace. We finally put to rest the man responsible for much pain, suffering, and death.
However, as Christians, how are we supposed to react in times of death? Are we supposed to cheer on the death of those who are persecutors? Are we supposed to revel in the death of our oppressors? It is in these moments that the words of Christ ring loudest. In what might be one of Jesus’s most popular set of teaching, Jesus hits hard on the subject of how we treat and feel about our persecutors, our enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus consistently flipped the script on the popular philosophy of his day. It is easy enough to love those who love us, but how near to impossible is it to love those who cause us harm, fear, suffering, pain, etc.? Jesus knew what he was asking for, to be perfect like God is perfect.
To be perfect like God is perfect is to love completely those who might hate you.
What reward is there is reveling in the death of those who persecute us? What reward do we receive in cheering on the death of those whom cause harm? What reward is there in only loving those who we deem worthy of our love? Well according to Christ, there is none.
This is one of the hardest teachings of Christ because Christ calls us to be so radically different than who we are without Him. It is easy to love those who love us, and easy for us to hate those who persecute us.
I, by no means, am exceptional at this. I remember when Obama made the announcement about bin Laden. I was happy, and relieved. I wrapped up my excitement in the understanding that bin Laden finally received the justice he deserved.
However, I was “hit with a ton of bricks” so to speak when I recognized that my excitement about the “justice served” meant that someone who (as hard of a thought this might be) was loved by Christ was now eternally separated from Christ. Someone who desperately needed to know the love of Christ would no longer have the chance or ability to know that love. Does it matter if the possibility of bin Laden coming to Christ was slim? Not at all. If there was even a chance that he could know the love of Christ and come to terms with the evil that was created by his actions, then
we should have prayed for our enemy and loved him, just as the words of Christ dictated we should.
Now as a quick disclaimer: does this mean that bin Laden should have been allowed to continue with his acts of terrorism? Should he have been free to live out his life? By no means! Of course bin Laden should have been captured, and put into jail. By being put into jail, we still had the opportunity to pray for him, and even possibly show him a love that makes no sense according to the world.
Should we celebrate the deaths of our persecutors? Should we be happy to hear of someone’s pain who is our enemy? Simply put, no. We are to love and pray for our enemies, our persecutors. We are to treat them with love. Hopefully loving our enemies helps bring them to a place of knowing Christ’s love (something they cannot do if they are not alive!).
Even if they never know Christ, at least we will be able to tell Christ one day, “I loved my enemies, even unto their last”.