Like so many in America, I followed the news story of James Foley with a kind of horrified interest.  A reporter, captured in Syria in 2012, he was beheaded earlier this month by a member of ISIS (or ISIL or IS…it matters not). Since the event, we’ve learned that the killing may have been staged and done off camera.  We’ve learned that the killer may be a citizen of the UK, a young man who is a rapper who comes from an extremist family.   Some have suggested that Foley was very sympathetic to certain Islamic groups in Syria.  As with so many stories, the facts trickle in over time. It is evident, however, that he was beheaded and that it was an act meant to terrify Westerners; to send a message that Islamic State is deadly serious about its agenda and absolutely willing to use the worst possible means to attain its ends.  It is also evident that he was loved by his family and friends, and respected by many in the journalism community. The whole thing struck me in the gut.  I did not know (and of course, still do not) whether the event may have been staged.  The technical details of the event are not particularly relevant.  What I saw, and only saw briefly, was a man being beheaded from behind.  His killer appears to have ‘sawed’ his head off from the front.  This is the same fate that met reporter Daniel Pearl some years ago after being kidnapped.  He was murdered by Al-Qaeda member Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  In like manner, his murder was videotaped for the world to see the brutality of Al-Qaeda.  His head was also sawed off as well.

No Japanese Katana, with it’s swift beheading. No merciful Guillotine.  Butchery, that’s what. As I saw the resolved face of Foley, and as I watched the briefest clip of the video, whether true or staged, I was filled with a terrible desire for vengeance; for the sake of a man tied up, killed and used as propaganda. I was sickened by the spectacle, whether it was reality or theater.  I had a deep sense of violence.  The desire to inflict it, that is, on the ‘heroic’ killer who stood behind his victim and ended his life.  I’m a Southern Appalachian man.  Deep in my DNA is a hatred of bullies.  Deeper (perhaps not as deep as I thought) is an ancient capacity for violence in the name of freedom, drawn on centuries, millennia of European and American conflicts; wars, civil wars, raids, battles.

Thinking about that, I realized something striking that shattered that trait inherited from Grandfather Cain. The murderer and the murdered were both loved by Jesus, whom I claim to love and serve. This is a hard teaching.  But the words of Jesus cannot be confused.  He told us that if we hate, it’s the same as murder.  That if we are struck on one cheek, to turn the other.  He said, from the cross, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’  A crucifixion is as horrible as a beheading, to be sure.

The Christian message is that God wants to transform us all, and have us leave behind our sins, however heinous. It’s that Jesus can forgive all and desires to forgive all.  It’s that God, through Christ, desires everyone to come to him; whether aid worker or oppressor, corporate CEO or trailer-park princess, educated, ignorant, theist, atheist and all the rest.  He wants to reclaim murdering terrorists and welcome their victims at the same time, the way a loving father desires both the obedient child and the prodigal.

Christ desires to transform my anger, my judgment, my deep desire to strike out and turn it all to love.  To make me less and less broken and more and more like him.  And for me to go to those who need transformation and redemption, forgiveness and even justice and be an ambassador.  To say to the fallen and broken, ‘The Father desires your presence.  Lay down yourself and your sin and let him show you.  He is waiting with open arms of love.’

I believe in justice.  I’d like to see it in this life; I’m confident of it in the next.  But perhaps the greatest justice of all would be for Foley’s murderer to repent and to weep and to beg God and his victim’s family for forgiveness. Stranger things have happened.  The Biblical account of he life of St. Paul is ample example, but only one of many.

If that happened, Foley (a believer from what I can tell) and his killer could meet in eternity and embrace in the wonder and glory of love and light, where all of the pain and terror and hatred of this life will have passed away.

Now wouldn’t that be a thing to behold?

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