Thursday, May 24, 2012

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The Rage and Compassion of Heroes

Last month I talked about a Bible study I'm leading here in Afghanistan.  The participants are mostly comprised of what we refer to as "outside-the-wire" troops ... brave young Airmen who do dangerous and difficult work in the local community.  They often arrive at the little chapel exhausted and drained, but they are faithful. They are a joy to be with, and I am regularly humbled in their presence.

Photo by Michael Yon
This week was a tough one for them.  They recently took some casualties, and were clearly struggling with how they are supposed to respond to it as Christians.  How do you forgive your enemies, or serve those who despise your service?  In short, "What do we do with the rage we feel?"

I felt completely inadequate.  I had many answers, but my experiences in the combat zone have been relatively tame compared to theirs.  What could I possibly tell them that would not come across as preachy or patronizing?  Yet they were looking to me for answers, and I reached for what I could find.

First, I talked about how we are to release our enemies to the justice of God:  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."    For as much as we want them to pay for their wrongs, absent God's redeeming grace their end is already a terrible one:
But when I thought how to understand this
     it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
     then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
     you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
     swept away utterly by terrors!
Then I discussed the example of Jonah, and how the bitterness he felt toward God's compassion for his enemies only served to undo him.  Rage made him irrational and filled him with bile, even after God gave him three days in a fish's belly to think about it:
And he prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."
Yet God pitied Jonah's enemies, and desired for His servant to share His compassion:
"And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left ... ?" 
After I finished, these young men poured out their hearts and talked about their frustrations.  Yet through it all came a clear desire to serve, to be changed, and to be used of God.  I told them I see a tremendous testimony being born in them.  They will return to their families, their churches, and their units back in the US, and they will be able to testify to those who struggle with bitterness and anger.  They will tell them about how God put them through the cauldron so that they could be a blessing to others, and their words will command respect and will change hearts.  I told them God is preparing a harvest of righteousness in them:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Afterwards, one of them told me, "I'm going home to read Jonah."

I love these guys.  I admire them so much.

5 comments:

  1. This was a real blessing to me this morning. These men have a very hard job, and they're all so young, but their experiences make them seem much much older. I will pray for them and for you. God bless you and keep you safe.

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  2. The picture you posted took my breath away-which of us does not long to be held and comforted that way when hurting.

    Thank you for describing the heart of the battle-weary in such a beautiful way. "What do we do with the rage we feel?" is a perfect question for those that defend the rights of others. For these men it's on the battlefield. For others it may be in remote orphanages, disaster zone field hospitals, or even in the homes of abused and neglected children next door. What an amazing God we have that gives our hearts the capacity to ache for others and the Spirit to strengthen us to keep fighting for them.
    Keep reaching them, and us, through your work!

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  3. Great response. I'll pray for you and your flock. Only item I would add to this is for your flock to pour out their anger and frustration to God, let Him have all the bitterness, and commit the response to His justice (as you stated). We sometimes think it is a sin to have bitter feelings, but it is only a sin if we harbor or act on them. Expressing them to God and trusting Him with the response is what he asks of us.

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  4. We appreciate the time you set aside for us and the spirit you rekindle in us each week! Thanks, may God continue to bless you.

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  5. God's wisdom flows through you, Ray. Well done in your openness to the Spirit of God.

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