Saturday, February 04, 2006

Every Cartoon Tells a Story, Don't It?

Followers of Islam are becoming violent in their outrage at their prophet Momamed being caricatured in newspaper cartoons. One of these cartoons shows the prophet with a lit bomb behind his turban. I guess the perceived suggestion that perhaps there are violent aspects to their faith is insulting. Insulting enough for some to start fires and burn flags. Indeed, a leader of the Islamic militant Hamas group, which recently swept Palestinian parliamentary elections, told an Italian newspaper on Saturday that the cartoons were an "unforgivable insult" that should be punished by death.
It's awfully tempting to compare and contrast Christian vs. Islamic reactions to having one's God mocked. Sadly, it wouldn't take long to dig up historical and current incidents of Christians resorting to violence in defense/pursuit of the Gospel of Christ. Rather than pit Christian behavior against the behavior of non-Christians, which only invites (often valid) cries of "HYPOCRITE," Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith... (Hebrews 12:2). How would/did/will Jesus respond to being insulted, and what does that mean for us?
Jesus was/is no stranger to being mocked. How did he respond? There are numerous examples in the Bible, but the clearest is His reaction when being mocked by those watching as He endured His crucifiction. Luke 23:34 reports:
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Jesus is clear that many of his followers will endure not just mockery, but death as well. His command, though, is hardly to take up arms:
If anyone is to go into captivity,
into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (Revelation 13:10)
This willingness to endure mockery of one's God, and one's faith in that God, (even to the point of death!), is hardly one of the Bible's most attracting lines of scripture. In fact, without knowing how God's grand scheme all works out, the level of commitment required would be ludicrous.
The "human" part of me would be unwilling to die for an unseen God. Hence, the importance of Faith. That same "human" side of me would also react with rage if someone insulted me or my God. It's through God's grace alone that any Christian can respond with love to an enemy. Do we always succeed? Hardly. Once again, our individual success rate is not the good news of the Gospel. The Good News is the forgiveness offered by the one (Jesus) who we've all mocked/insulted/disobeyed, etc. Portraying Jesus in a less-than-flattering light in a newspaper cartoon is mild compared to how we've all treated our very Creator. And yet, He stands ready and eager to forgive us if we simply admit our sin, and ask for His forgiveness.
The difference between following Jesus, and any other religious pursuit, is that Jesus is solely responsible for making us Holy enough to find favor with God . We do not have to blow ourselves up, kill infidels, or even demonstrate a proven track record of behavior where our goodness outweighs our badness. (Yes, we are expected to strive for Holiness, but Jesus makes it clear that we will all fall far shy of the mark until we are perfected in Heaven). Once again, Christ is the author and perfector of our faith (see above). Christ is the one true God who does it all, including taking care of Himself. Jesus does not need us to defend Him, but He does give us the gift of wanting to share His good news.
Does a Christian then, have no inner turmoil when his Lord is mocked? Of course not. It IS uncomfortable. However, the discomfort often has more to do with anguish for the mocker's soul than any personal slight. We know that it is not our place to avenge (Do not be revengeful, my dear friends, but give way before anger; for it is written, "'Revenge belongs to Me: I will pay back,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19). Even if we were to disobey this command, we know that NOTHING we could dole out would compare with God's wrath: Matthew 10:28 tells us (and anyone willing to listen): "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
No, God does not need His followers to stick up for Him. The end for those who mock Jesus is horrifying. Even this final judgement, however, is not God's wish for anyone. God does not want anyone to perish but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Someone. right now, is mocking the God I put my faith in. Jesus does not want me to burn their buildings. God does not ask me to convert them by force. Rather, He has prompted me to share the news of His available, incredible mercies. That same mercy is available, right now, to everyone who still breathes. As the saying goes, "don't be caught dead without Him."

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