“No just God would stand for what they did” – this was President Obama’s assertion regarding the extremists who killed journalist James Foley.
I don’t stand for the killing. But I also won’t stand for—and don’t believe in—the sort of God it characterizes. The God of the President’s statement—this so-called God of justice, the God who will show up to do something, or maybe to stop things from happening—couldn’t help but be a parallel version of what we’re trying to get away from, and soon becomes another dominating terrorizer.
The American view is that this same God who wouldn’t “stand for” executing a journalist would have to enforce the other side, using airstrikes and drones and police troops. It’s simply about another kind of killing. The President’s “just God” is nothing but our own version of the hooded executioner we want to call in, the masked enforcer, the hidden but powerful threat. We’re realizing all-too-well these days that your good cop is somebody else’s vigilante. The appeal to a just God will not right our wrongs, but only entrench self-justification.
Further, how do we reconcile a just God with a claim to favoritism, among nations or religions, maybe among classes or colors? We’d be condemned to proliferating tragedy, with such a God’s fleeting favor. We can’t help but let down that God’s standards, fail to live up to what we’re supposed to, break the rules and the law, end up on the wrong side. That puts us on the wrong side of vengeance, the casualties of our own holy war. That God’s “eye-for-eye,” indeed, is liable to leave the world blind.
We can only say Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, that such a view mis-characterizes God. See, we can and should strive for justice, not only calling for an end to isolated violence of terrorism but also striving for an end to sanctioned broadly-supported state violence that breeds it, directly or indirectly.
But that effort, that mission does not come from a God of justice. It comes from a God of compassion, of mercy, of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” That doesn’t claim more value for one life than another. It isn’t even about loving enemies. That is primarily the love of God that is long-suffering, patient, understanding, pressing forward in spite of all that opposes life.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” this God says. Or, more to the point, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”