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How does Christianity differ from other religions, specifically religions like Islam that seem to promote violence? The question is being raised mainly in light of examples in the Bible like where God devoted certain cities to destruction or prayers in Psalms – we called them imprecatory prayers – that are praying judgment down on enemies. Like, in light of these kinds of examples, how can we say that Christianity is any different from… let’s say radical Islam and terrorism?
It’s a really good question and and very relevant in light of what’s happening on the news. There’s hardly a day that goes by where we don’t hear another example of a radical terrorist blowing up or running over or shooting people. And often pundits get on and in the media and explain that even though these are Islamists, that these radical Muslims are really no different from radical Christians or radical Jews or radical Hindus. It’s a really relevant question. Is Christianity different? How is Christianity different?
Let me just make two big points:
1: Christians face the horror of evil and the need for justice head on. Christians cannot should not will not trivialize evil. God would cease to be God if He were passive about injustice, violence, or oppression. And we see examples of this all throughout the Bible. He judged the world for violence and evil in the flood. He judged the Canaanites for their brutality against their children and offering their children as sacrifices to Baal. He includes the imprecatory prayers in Psalms – the psalms that are prayers against enemies – to communicate the fact that the world is not the way it is supposed to be and that God’s people really revolt against the wrong, not by personally destroying people, but but by crying out to God. By, as Romans 12 says, leaving it to the wrath of God is what imprecatory prayers are doing.
He also will judge all mankind in the final judgment. So, the big point is God is not passive about evil. The big difference with Christianity is there is a huge sense that it’s not just “out there” – like those evil people need to be judged – but it’s in here. It’s “I deserve judgement, I deserve the righteous wrath of God, I deserve to be violently eternally condemned for my sin against His holiness.” Every true believer believes that deeply. Apart from God’s grace, we are children of wrath. We are children whose only hope is eternal damnation apart from God’s gracious mercy.
What that does is, it points us toward the cross where the cruelty and kindness – cruelty of sin and the kindness of God – met in Jesus Christ. The brutality and benevolence, God’s mercy and His justice met on the cross. That is one of the reasons Christians all over the world are known for this cross. The cross is the sign both of brutality and of eternal benevolence, of kindness. Because God faced squarely the horrors of evil and judged it on the cross and that results when we by faith believe Jesus destroyed sin and death in the cross. It produces in us a deep humility, not that other people deserved…. but that we deserved judgment and we’ve received mercy.
And that leads us to the #2 big point. That leads us to the fact that Christians are called to follow Jesus in love and self-sacrifice. So, while at the very same time not trivializing evil, injustice, oppression… We are pursuing justice, and kindness, and compassion through self-sacrifice. And that is one of the big differences between Christianity and Islam. The clearest way to see that it Is look at the leaders. First of all, look at Jesus. He never trivialized evil. He sought out the oppressed. But he never led an army. He never killed anyone. He never abused anyone. He showed kindness and he was killed for it.
Now look at Muhammad the one who began Islam. At the beginning of his creating or starting Islam, he was very peaceful. He began peaceful. The revelations he received were very peaceful and if you look at the parts the Quran that were written during his early years, they were peaceful. But the last 10 years of His leadership, he oversaw about eighty military campaigns. This is history. It’s not up for grabs. And if you read the Quran and if you read the Hadith, you will see these examples of killing, looting, raping, kidnapping, and slavery. Muhammad over saw all of these.
So, even from the very foundation… you see the foundation of Christianity and Jesus Christ is in stark contrast to the foundation of Islam. You actually have to go a thousand years from Jesus Christ when He was on Earth to the time of the Crusades before you get a theology of holy war in Christianity. That doesn’t mean that Christians didn’t do bad things before that, but I’m talking about the theology of holy war. You don’t have to go any time at all from Muhammad to get a theology of holy war or jihad. It’s from the very, very beginning.
And the Crusades, while they were a reaction to Islamic military expansion (which just look at the map, you can see that they were clearly wrong), the things that were done with crosses on chests in the name of Jesus were horrific. It illustrates what happens when Christians begin mimicking Muhammad rather than Jesus.
That doesn’t mean that Christians don’t have a strong conviction of Romans 13, that God gives government the sword for a reason, to prosecute evil-doers and protect the innocent. There is a place for just war. But you’ll notice the distinction between Romans 12 and Romans 13. There’s a separation of this individual not pursuing violence and the state maintaining security and stability. So, vast difference from holy war or violence In the name of Jesus.