Jihadi John, the beheader, otherwise known as Mohammad Emwazi, at the age of six was brought to the UK in 1994 by Kuwaiti parents. He attended St Mary Magdalene Church of England primary school, and in 2009 graduated with honors from the University of Westminster. He then worked for an IT company in Kuwait and was considered “the best employee the company ever had.”
A short five years later, in the fall of 2014, in front of a camera, with obvious delight, and in cold blood, Emwazi beheaded two American journalists, a volunteer social worker, and two British aid workers. Apparently there was a four-person execution cell, all with British accents (!), whom the prisoners call the “Beatles.” Naturally, the leader, Emwazi, got the name “John.”
A year later, November 12, 2015, an American drone blasted Jihadi John into eternity. He was 27.
How should we respond to this news?
BOMBS or BIBLES: Most people in the West doubtless experienced this event with a sense of moral approval. The justified outrage about Jihadi John’s actions is the same as the one that has just arisen about the butchering of 129 people in Paris in the name of Allah. Seeing young men with Kalashnikovs firing point blank at other young people in cold blood produces understandable outrage. We are instinctively relieved at the determination of French Prime Minister Hollande, in response to unthinkable cruelty, to declare war on Isis and bomb to smithereens their installations in Syria—justice oblige.
But Christians are conflicted, as was Jonah in the Bible. Last Sunday, I heard a sermon on Jonah’s refusal to take the message of God’s forgiveness to the godless and cruel Assyrians of Nineveh. When the preacher described the Assyrians as the ISIS of the ancient world, I realized I could no longer stand simplistically in judgment of Jonah’s seemingly selfish attitude. This clear comparison provoked a number of questions in my mind, and a few things began to fall into place.
What should Christians desire for the Jihadist terrorists, BOMBS or BIBLES?
BIBLES: Of course I do not mean Jihadi John being taken out by a fully-annotated hard-backed Geneva Study Bible, shot like a bullet at great velocity from a swooping American drone.
Christians are conflicted because the great commission commands us to take the biblical Gospel to the ends of the earth, to all the nations, including members of ISIS. Killing sinners removes them from any possibility of hearing the good news of the forgiveness Jesus purchased through his atoning death two thousand years ago. How we can reconcile justice and grace, deserved punishment and undeserved forgiveness? It may be a question of timing, which in the ultimate scheme of things remains mysterious. We do not control history. God does.
In terms of timing, we need to get the Gospel to jihadists before they become jihadists. Was the young Emwazi clearly confronted with the Gospel during the years he attended St Mary Magdalene Church of England primary school? Did the Christian groups at the University of Westminster in central London, reach out to him? Did the university that claims to “embrace global engagement in every arena of institutional activity” give any serious moral and spiritual guidance” to this confused young man? There doubtless came a time when the door of opportunity shut, when Jihadi John consciously closed his mind to anything but hateful, radical Islam. At that point, other historical and moral factors take over.
Certainly, it is the job of the church to take the Gospel to every creature and thus we should redouble our effort before it is too late and the door of opportunity closes, whether individually or nationally.
BOMBS: It is always the responsibility of the State to maintain social justice and, helped by the church, to seek to administer a valid understanding of a just society. Non-Christians in our office building today are asking about political justice! The Christian answer is that the “magistrate” is charged by God to maintain “the good” and punish “the bad,” as that pertains to the good, livable social order (Romans 13:3). This includes “respect” and “honor” between citizens (12:7). For that, the State “bears the sword” and “carries out God’s just wrath on the wrongdoer” (12:4), especially those massacring fellow citizens.
BOMBS or BIBLES? The dilemma is resolved in God, who is sovereignly in charge both of the fate of individuals and of the overseeing of the State throughout history. Thus, as the State applies laws in a just manner, via the sword, eventually including BOMBS, people are brought face to face with the ethical character of the universe, so that, as Paul says, the moral law, including that of the State, eventually drives us to the Christ of the BIBLE and to his forgiving grace.