Upon its tenth anniversary, the tragedy of 9/11 will be considered from many different perspectives. One, however, fascinates me the most, as it provides such a stark contrast between the mission of the Islamo-fascist terrorist and the evangelical Christian missionary. While their methods are surprisingly similar, their mandates are polar opposites. We can observe a contrast between love and hate, life and death, martyrdom and suicide. Both groups seek to influence the other in completely different ways, which I believe points to the supremacy of the vision Jesus gave His church through the Great Commission.
When I suggest that we have similar methods, I am speaking of the idea of sneaking into another country at great personal risk and concealing from them one’s true mission for being there. As we pray for our missionaries in countries closed to the gospel, we use their initials to protect their identity. We place them there ostensibly for educational or commercial purposes, but we know they are truly there to make Jesus known among a people with very little opportunity to hear the gospel. Of course, the terrorists sneak into countries as well, also under the premise of educational or commercial purposes, not to do good but to do harm. They, too, have a mission, but one that is strikingly opposite from our own.
While both groups believe in laying down their lives sacrificially, there is a categorical difference between the suicide of the Jihadist and the martyrdom of the missionary. The terrorist lays down his life in order to destroy the bodies of his enemies. The missionary lays down his life in order to preserve the souls of his enemies. One is acting out of hatred to promote death. The other is acting out of love to promote life. One is dying to kill. The other is dying to save.
Do not misread me as a pacifist, for I am not one. I am speaking here not of any kind of national defense policy or military strategy, but rather of the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of our two very different societies. I confess as a red blooded American there is a Clint Eastwood / Jack Bauer part of me that desires to visit upon my enemies the same pain and suffering that they have visited upon me, but I am called to a much higher standard by the One who loved me even though I was responsible for His death.
Ten years ago, on the Sunday after 9/11, I closed my sermon with this statement: “The best way to strike back against a senseless and untimely death is to reach forward and propagate a meaningful and eternal life.” They sneak over here to take life. We sneak over there to give it. This is the evidence of the One who separates us from them: by God’s grace and for His glory, we have the power to love our enemies. Ultimately, our mission, being the greater one, will prevail.