Loving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
How do we condemn evil while loving evil people?

On my way to work yesterday, I was disturbed. As I scanned the radio stations, more than once I heard calls to "round up the terrorists," and to "send those foreigners home," or worse yet, to "eradicate the Muslim threat."

While looking for distracting music, I was confronted with destructive hatred.

I'm observing two distinct and unhelpful reactions to the apparent Jihadist terrorism that has struck my city. The first is the xenophobic, racial, and even religious hatred of my Muslim neighbors. The other is the willful ignorance of the religious connection to these terrorists acts—the blind assumption that all religions are created equal. Neither is good. Neither is truthful. And more importantly, neither is Christ-like.

It is obvious to the liberal mind that hatred of our Muslim neighbors is wrong. It is not obvious to the liberal mind that one can observe what is immoral in one religion without hating all of its people, being a racist, a bigot, or a backwards fundamentalist—a favorite straw man of our time. This is why the liberal mind (and the conservative mind, for that matter) must experience a change of mind. Christians must have Christian minds.

So how are we to think about our Muslim neighbors? About Islam? Even about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? 

Christians Should Believe Christianity is Right

To quote Tim Keller, "It is no narrower to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions is right." It just won't work to say, "All religions, faiths, and belief systems are equally valid, and if you don't agree you're a bigot." The idea falls in on itself because, in making a claim that exclusivity is wrong, you're excluding the exclusivist. Darn that logic, ruining all our fun.

Christians do, in fact, believe that Christianity is right. And by the way, not believing Christianity is right is not Christian love. Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world. If he is who he claimed to be (and Christians believe he is) then not proclaiming that news to the whole world is very unloving. Our silence is preventing them from obtaining the cure to what is broken within them and us. What kind of love is that? In the name of not wanting to offend anyone we implicitly condemn everyone. I'm glad that Jesus didn't love me like that.

Christians Believe Loving our Neighbor is Right.

If Christians really believe Christianity is right, then we'll be fiercely committed to Christ, who commanded us to love our neighbor. How did Jesus interact with those of different religions? Ask the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan. Ask the Roman official. He was a pagan. Did Jesus have an interfaith worship service, affirming the equality of their own paths to God? No. Did he picket them, getting the disciples to stir up racial or national hatred against them? No.

April 27, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments


May 10, 2013  1:01pm

I would really like to see someone local anointed by God's spirit to go and rescue that young man spiritually, share Christ with him, bring him to the saving knowledge of Yeshua. Is there any of you that could go? God bless, aloha

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April 30, 2013  5:18am

I am disturbed by discussions such as these when they are led ... or even dominated ... by perspectives from the majority. As someone who lives as a minority, one of the biggest challenges is to *remember* to suspend premature conclusions, to be exceptionally wary of presumptive statements. For me the starting point to loving my local Muslim, Asian, European, Black, White, etc., is to begin with 1 Cor 9:19-23 ... yet in western nations I see exactly the opposite happening. "I see through the filter of culture and prejudice ... God sees unfiltered. I want God's eyes, but I'm scared by what I might then see!"

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April 29, 2013  8:26am

KM, good question: How do we love our Muslim neighbors? I've traveled around the country and spoken to groups, and I find the first problem is that in most places in the U.S. people don't know even one Muslim person. It's hard to love them if you don't know one. I live in a major metropolitan area that has every ethnic and religious group imaginable, so it's much easier to do here. 1. Muslims usually want their children to be friends with Christian children, especially their daughters. Our daughters are (usually) modest and don't run around with boys. That's important to Muslim parents. They will promote that friendship. You should too! 2. Muslims are incredibly social, but it's best to keep things man-to-man and woman-to-woman. They have a strict code of respect in their culture. When you enter a Muslim home you probably will take off your shoes. You will want to shake hands with everyone in the house – even the children, and even people in other rooms. Polite greetings are very important. When you leave the house, you repeat the same thing. If you do this, you will be seen as a "good" respectful Christian. Don't cross your knees and show the sole of your foot at anyone. This is offensive. If you are a woman, it is very respectful for a man to shake your hand but look away slightly. Accept it as a gesture of honor toward you. 3. Most Muslims in my area are nominal (Muslims in name only). You can tell because the wives are either Americans or they don't change their dress. These are the Muslims who escaped fundamentalist Islam in their own countries. Simply by asking the wife if she would ever *want* to move back is a clear indicator of where they stand on fundamentalism. 4. Culturally they still might hold dietary restrictions (no pork), so a store-bought dessert is safe (a fruit pie, a cake, pastries). I usually bring gifts such as pistachio nuts, cheeses, crackers, dried fruits. Don't bring meats or sausages. 5. Over time, they might invite you to take their children to church. They might also ask you to explain the Bible story of Jesus to their children. Do it. It's especially important that you clear up the story of Jesus. Make sure the children know that it was God's plan all along that Jesus should die. Jesus wasn't a hapless victim. He did it deliberately to destroy sin, selfishness, and evil in this world. 6. If a national or local news story implicates a Muslim, you can show your neighborhood and your Muslim friends that you love them by going to their house and bringing a snack tray of foods. Plan to stay for a couple hours. Park your car outside. Make sure people can see that you care about them (and are protecting them from crazies). 7. Pray for their protection in front of them. Start your prayer with "Almighty God" rather than Father. Father has a sexual connotation, so emphasize the power and strength of God. They will capture the idea of a loving God when you pray that God protects their home and family members. And of course, pray in the name of Jesus. They believe he was sinless and virgin born. They know *something* is special about him. You would be surprised what happens over the years. –Janey

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April 28, 2013  2:22pm

"On my way to work yesterday, I was disturbed. As I scanned the radio stations, more than once I heard calls to "round up the terrorists," and to "send those foreigners home," or worse yet, to "eradicate the Muslim threat." Shocking, I say, shocking that people have the unmitigated gall of acting like people. Wait...what the... I'm observing two distinct and unhelpful reactions to the apparent Jihadist terrorism that has struck my city. Dude, seriously, did you just express shock that non-Christians who know nothing about G-d, Y'shua, or the Holy Spirit are acting...unsurprisingly...like non-Christians, and that they should be acting like Christians? Seriously, did I just read that implication in your first "chapter"?

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April 28, 2013  9:51am

WE as Christians have become a stumbling block so that they do not see Jesus Christ through us....I Loved this Article...God Bless...and other most important thing is ONE WORLD GOVERMENT ... it more Dangerous than all the religious TERRORISUM ...and that is creeping up in our Present AGE

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April 27, 2013  10:44pm

Thanks, Adam. Yes, this story that God's wrath against sin is "propitiated" by Christ's blood is what I heard for over 30 years, and I now understand it as a distortion of the real biblical teaching about the meaning of the Cross. I believe it seriously distorts our understanding of the Godhead's motivation in the economy of our salvation in Christ. I know that many translations of the Scriptures use the word "propitiation," but this is a theological translation not necessitated by the actual Greek text. Interestingly, there is hardly a peep of this view of the purpose of the death of Christ for the first millennium of Church history–and certainly the idea is not developed to the point and in quite the way it was under the Reformers in the full-blown Penal Substitution theory birthed in the 16th century, itself a development of Anselm's Medieval Roman Catholic theory of "satisfaction" from the 12th century (another view not found among the early Church Fathers). The view that predominated in the earlier period (still that of the Orthodox Church) is that by His death, Christ "trampled down death" and conquered the forces of sin and evil on our behalf and yes, that this was according to the will of the Father. Likely, you're familiar with this earlier "Christus Victor" model. Yes, I agree it was costly, and I agree it demonstrated that God in His infinite love and mercy was willing to pay that cost (that "ransom") for our salvation and freedom, and that because of that I am empowered and motivated to forgive others and even to love my enemies. But I also find the "mathematical" view of God's "justice" in Reformed Penal Substitution theory to be ethically and morally deficient by biblical standards and ultimately unworthy of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. For example, it in no way corresponds to the view of God presented in Christ's teachings of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and of the Forgiven Debtor, etc., which are pictures of our salvation and of the nature of God given to us by Christ Himself. Dr. Robin Collins, Evangelical philosophy professor at Messiah College has done some work to demonstrate the logical, ethical, and moral problems with Penal Substitution theory from a biblical perspective in his online work called "Understanding Atonement," which I highly recommend to Evangelicals who make Reformed Penal Substitution central to their understanding of our salvation in Christ. That this "ransom" was ultimately paid to anyone was also adamantly denied by the early Fathers of the Church, who taught that this would be taking the metaphor of Christ's death as our "ransom" too far. The ransom was rather paid to "death," meaning simply that this (i.e., Christ's uniting His divine LIfe with our humanity in the Incarnation and enduring all the consequences of our fallen and corrupt state even unto death, giving that Life–His blood–for us on the Cross) is what it took to destroy death and effect our deliverance from that state. This view understands the Cross and the power of Christ's blood not as propitiatory, but rather expiatory– as the fact that we are saved by being united with Christ's Death and Resurrection in Baptism and by feeding on His Body and Blood in the life-giving Eucharistic Feast shows. We, not God, are the ones changed by the power of the Cross. Here is a pertinent quote from one of the greatest early theologians of the Church, St. Gregory Nanzianzus: Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into. To Whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and Highpriest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause? If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receive

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Adam Mabry

April 27, 2013  3:31pm

Hi Karen, Thanks for the question. Grace is costly and bloody because it was shown to us at the death of Christ. So, for God to show us grace, it meant Jesus Christ propitiating God's just wrath and anger at sin. (See Isaiah 53, 2 Cor. 5:21, et. al.) In fact, the only way we really understand what God's love even is, is in it's relationship to the death of Christ. (1 John 4:10). All of the punishment that "wrong" deserves was poured out upon Jesus. All of God's just, measured opposition to sin was received by Christ on our behalf. This grace is free to us and infinitely costly to God. So the math works like this: if God has forgiven me in a way that was totally free to me (grace) and infinitely costly to Him (justice, propitiation) then I have no excuse to take revenge on anyone else. Jesus spoke of this directly in his parable of the unforgiving servant. (Matt 18:21-35). Grace is bloody, costly, and beautiful. Because Jesus' blood has been shed for sin, I don't have to shed anyone else's when I'm sinned against. His blood was enough. For Christians, his blood still is enough.

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April 27, 2013  2:41pm

Sorry, one correction: my question should have been addressed to Adam, not Paul.

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April 27, 2013  2:40pm

"Grace is a costly, bloody thing. The cycle of violence and hatred stops at the cross because God's justice was poured out on his innocent Son for a guilty humanity." Paul, I agree grace is costly and demands self-sacrifice sometimes even to the point of shedding one's own blood (in a fallen and violent world). But would you care to define God's "justice" as you use it in this sentence and explain just exactly how this understanding stops the cycle of violence we see in the world (rather than serving as one more example of it and actually giving it a sort of divine sanction)? Definitely, I agree we must start thinking like Christ, and I would argue we need to get rid of false explanations of why the economy of our salvation in Christ included the Cross in order to do so. I think many readers would agree love of one's enemies is the fullest expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means Romans 5:7-8 ought to be understood in the context of Matthew 5:43-48 and John 8:28-29, 10:15-18 and such passages, and we must stop thinking of the Cross as some sort of "God (as a sort of 'good cop' recompenses God (as a sort of 'bad cop') by God-as-Man being punished for sin on man's behalf" kind of legal transaction. I, and many others, on the basis of many Scriptures would argue God's "justice" even in the OT is not properly defined as an "an eye for an eye," nor as retributive punishment, much less the punishment of the innocent in the place of the guilty (which is actually forbidden in OT law). This is the reason I cannot accept the Medieval and Reformed "satisfaction" and "penal substitution" narratives of the meaning of why Christ had to die for our sins, which take the words of Scripture and alter their meanings to fit first Medieval feudal law and then the nominalistic juridical schemes of 16th century criminal law. I would argue the resulting distortions seriously undermine our understanding of the God of Jesus Christ in His love and righteousness/justice/holiness and exactly how it is Jesus' death "justifies" sinners and reconciles them to God. I see no possibility of Christians fully understanding how to end the cycle of violence you describe apart from the healing of this false understanding of the meaning of God's "justice."

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April 27, 2013  7:52am

Great post! I'd love to also hear concrete ways to engage with and love our Muslim neighbors, any thoughts?

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