Last week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.
Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)
Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.
So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.
#2 – God Loves Wicked People
The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).
“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)
#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)
Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.
Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15