Headlines can’t possibly tell a whole story, but the one I spotted in an Associated Press report on this, the third anniversary of the U. S. invasion of Iraq, almost missed the mark completely. It read: Father Loses Taste for Revenge in Iraq.
This intriguing story unfolds in battle torn Iraq, where we meet Joe Johnson, a self-employed home builder who spent six years in the Army and Navy a couple of decades ago. In 2003, when war was declared, Johnson re-upped with the National Guard for the sole and express purpose of serving his country in Iraq. He told the AP reporter that he “was pissed off at the terrorists for 9/11 and other atrocities.”
Johnson hails from Rome, Georgia, a scenic town near Atlanta. But apparently, news that there were no Iraqis involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction apparently did not reach Rome or Johnson. That’s the best explanation I can offer.
In April 2003, a month after his 22-year-old son Justin had left for Iraq, Johnson traveled to Ft. Lewis, Washington on a mission. A guard unit there was slated to be deployed to Iraq; Johnson wanted to go with them. He reasoned that if he and Justin were in Iraq at the same time, his wife would only have to endure one year of anguish, not two.
It all seemed to make sense. But while Johnson was in Fort Lewis, trying to qualify for combat, that all changed. Justin was killed by a roadside bomb in an Iraqi slum. An already outraged Johnson returned to Rome, even more embittered.
A year later, after he and his family had partially healed from Justin’s death, Johnson set out for Iraq with his Georgia National Guard unit. He was on a crusade. Literally. You see, Johnson is a Christian missionary. He has traveled to the Arctic and Peru to spread Christ’s teachings.
As a veteran from the minefields of journalism, I can confidently say that this is breaking news; and the headline on this story should have read: Christian Missionary Loses Taste for Revenge.
I had no idea that revenge and violence were principles taught by the Jew that we Christians know and revere as Jesus of Nazareth. But, hey, I could be wrong. So, like any good journalist, I decided to do some fact checking.
I’ve discovered that the most efficient way to find the location of any word in the Bible is to search The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance, which claims to be “the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date” resource of its kind. The cover of this edition notes that the words of Christ are in red. That’s precisely what I’m looking for: bold evidence that Jesus instructed us to be vengeful and violent.
According to Strong’s, there are 18 scriptures that include the word revenge or any derivative. Sixteen were from the Old Testament; half of those scriptures included the word blood.
The two citations from the New Testament were found in Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (7:11 and 10:6). In that same letter, he noted: “For though we live an earthly life, yet we do not serve worldly things. For the weapons which we use are not earthly weapons but of the might of God by which we conquer rebellious strongholds.” (2Corinthians 10:3, 4) In other words, “No swords and guns, guys. Fight with spiritual power, not earthly force.”
There was not one red-letter scripture listed in Strong’s in which Jesus of Nazareth was quoted directly or indirectly as promoting, teaching, or even mentioning the word revenge.
Since the word blood was most often used in connection with revenge, I also searched the number of times it was cited in the Bible. According to Strong’s, blood appears 447 times. Toss in the words bloodguiltiness (1), bloodthirsty (1), and bloody (16) for good measure.
There were 15 blood citations in red, which directly linked them to the world’s most famous Jew. None of these scriptures was within the context of violence, revenge, or any of their malevolent kin.
So how did a devout Christian—especially one who was spreading the teachings of the Prince of Peace to other parts of the world—conclude that revenge, bloody violence or pre-emptive attack were part of his worldly mission? I wouldn’t have been as stunned if he had asserted himself as a conscientious objector, citing chapter and verse proving that the Lord of his heart taught and practiced non-violence.
Jesus of Nazareth is widely known to have had some serious issues with many of the Hebrew Scriptures that modern Christians embrace, including those that endorse and encourage violence to resolve disputes. For example:
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it is said, ‘Be kind to your friend, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless anyone who curses you, do good to anyone who hates you, and pray for those who carry you away by force and persecute you…”
Jesus went on to say that God causes the sun to shine upon the good and the bad, and pours down rain upon the just and the unjust. In other words, God does not discriminate or judge; we’re all treated the same way. And Jesus told us to “judge not”, unless we wanted to be judged.
It’s fascinating that those who claim to be followers of Jesus have veered onto another path. In this case, we have a missionary who probably would be at a loss to explain, in purely Christian terms, how he could tell a reporter, “I don’t really have love for Muslim people…. It’s hard to love people who hate you.”
Here’s some breaking news, Missionary Johnson: That’s precisely what followers of Jesus do.
To his credit, according to the report, Johnson has had enough of war after six months. He says that he shouldn’t have even gone to Iraq, and he hopes to leave without any blood on his hands.
“I really don’t want to kill innocent people,” he reportedly said. “I don’t want to live with that the rest of my life.”
Now that sounds more like a Christian missionary. Peace, be still.