Certain voices in our society keep emphasizing that Islam is a religion of peace and Christianity has a history of violence. Apparently the current violent Muslim terrorists do not represent Islam, so they say, but violent Crusaders from a thousand years ago do represent Christianity.
We are being asked to compare the most peaceful and loving Muslims with the most violent and hateful Christians. Is that not an admission that it is difficult to make Islam look peaceful and difficult to make Christianity look violent? In other words, plenty of recent evidence shows the violent tendencies of Islam but one must go back a thousand years to find evidence of such violence among Christians.
The Crusades were a period of war between Roman Catholic Europeans and Islamic Middle Easterners. The conflict is dated to almost a thousand years ago, but that is not the beginning of the story, any more than World War II started with America dropping atom bombs on Japan. It would be unfair to ignore the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in telling the story of the Second World War and it is unfair to mention the Crusades without telling the rest of the story.
Militant Muslims marched across North Africa, into Eastern Europe and Spain for more than 400 years before Europeans finally roused themselves and stopped their advances. The idea that evil hard-hearted Christian Crusaders suddenly butchered innocent and unsuspecting Muslims without any provocation is a myth. The Muslims were aggressors and both sides fought to win.
We can all agree that there are those who misrepresent Islam and Christianity. We should also agree that it is unfair to judge a group by those who are poor examples of the group’s true beliefs. What better way to determine a group’s true beliefs than to look at the founder’s life and teachings?
After being rejected by the Jews, Muhammad cut off the heads of some 700 Jewish men and took their women and children as spoils of war. After being rejected by the Jewish and Roman leaders, Jesus told his follower Peter to put down his sword and then he went voluntarily to a shameful, painful and undeserved execution on a Roman cross.
Violent Muslims are following the example of Muhammad. Violent Christians are rejecting the example of Jesus. But there is more to this story, too. Jesus was not waging a holy war or jihad. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom in order to save lost sinners. His kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world. His followers are not guaranteed power in this age, but eternal life in the age to come.
Here is part of the problem. Those who are skeptical about heaven and hell tend to see all religions as equally unnecessary and dangerous. Why argue or fight about a God that does not exist? Instead, the non-religious seek a secular state and a secular world that will supposedly get beyond all the violence caused by passionate religious convictions.
But secularists do not subject their own belief system to the same standards which they frequently apply to religion. We need not go back a thousand years to find horrifying violence among atheists. Within the last one hundred years atheists controlled a state that perpetrated violence against its own citizens on a scale that makes violent religionists look like beginners. The atrocities of Communism somehow get a pass in the judgment day against religion. Is that right?
The fact is, violence is a human problem, not a religious problem. In the days of Noah, the famous ark-builder, the Bible tells us that the earth was full of violence. Noah, however, was different. He was a preacher of righteousness. But the people rejected him and his message. They took no serious interest in his giant boat.
God waited patiently in the time of Noah. But a day came when the door of the ark was closed and the rains of judgment arrived. The flood waters rose and only those few who were on the ark survived. The majority was wrong.
Jesus told his listeners that the last days will be like the time of Noah. The comparison between the Crusades and terrorism makes one very important point: humanity has not changed. We are not evolving into a more peaceful and benevolent race. If anything, we seem to be discovering even more appalling ways of killing.
But Jesus also meant that another day is coming like that day when the door closed on the ark. People were trying to ignore the day of God’s judgment and in doing so they also ignored God’s provision for salvation. God always leaves a door open for those who wish to experience salvation instead of judgment.
Jesus predicted that wars and rumors of wars will continue unabated in this age. Secular humanists assure us that humanity can evolve and do away with the horrors of war. Humanists continue to be wrong and Jesus continues to be right. Based on the historical evidence, we would be wise to find the door to God’s ark, the way to his salvation.
Instead of comparing ourselves to one another, we should compare ourselves to Jesus, God’s ultimate standard. In so doing, we will all realize our need for salvation. The good news is this: Jesus is not only the standard which we cannot meet, he is the Savior whom we do not deserve. Because of God’s grace, we can find true peace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, February 2015