Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere you will have heard by now of the tragedy in Norway of Anders Breivik killing over 90 innocent people as part of his ‘Christian’ crusade against what he saw as the Muslim takeover of Europe. In a time like this there will be much mud-slinging, blame shifting and many condemnations of Breivik from various leaders and public figures, particularly from those in positions of leadership within the church.
I may not be a great Christian leader, but I hope to offer here what I think is the biblical response to this great tragedy.
Let me first of all say that I do not want to reduce in any way the seriousness of what happened in Norway last week. Nor do I feel anything but horror at the devastation that Anders caused. But there is great danger in dwelling on his deeds, a danger of pride in our own moral uprightness and a danger of beginning to hate. Instead what we must do is to let God’s searching tragedies lay bare our souls and strip us of our complacency and apathy.
A Bad Approach: “You shall not murder.”
Generally speaking, people don’t like it when you kill innocent folk, especially young ones. Many people right now hate Breivik for what he has done. They are angry and they are hurt. John Donne wrote: “No man is an island” and everyone is feeling vulnerable right now and a feeling of vulnerability can often show itself in anger at the person causing it. But while the world can (and is) hoping for Anders Breivik to suffer for what he did, that should not, and must not be the Christian Church’s response. Our response to his pro-‘Christian’, anti-Muslim massacre must be this: God bless Anders Breivik. God bless him, not for one moment because we approve of what he did but precisely because we are so opposed to it.
Our Lord’s most famous instruction from his time on earth is simply: “Love your enemies” but not many people seem to realise what that actually means. It means taking someone such as Anders Breivik who has tarnished the name of the church and spat in Christ’s face with his claim of the name Christian; someone who has murdered innocent young people and shown no remorse; it means taking someone like that and showing the same care and compassion towards them that you would for your friend. It means praying, not that he would suffer, but that he would turn to Christ and be forgiven.
It is not easy. But it is necessary. To give in to anger and hate is to commit the same crime that Anders did and to be guilty in the eyes of God.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20To 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." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We must feel anger at the evil in the world, but that anger must not control us. It must above all be ruled by love and compassion. It must always be willing to forgive. If Anders Breivik was to come to know Christ as Lord and Saviour tomorrow, and to attend your church service on Sunday, would you welcome him in? If not then perhaps you should look at your anger again. Is it righteous anger, motivated by a horror at this violation of God’s law? Or is it a frightened anger, anger at someone daring to upset your idea of a nice happy world?
“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.”
A Worse Approach: “I’m the king of the castle”
Remember that little rhyme from childhood? “I’m the king of the castle, and you’re the dirty wee rascal!” We used to shout it out every time we took the high ground, be it slide, fort or climbing frame. It may be harmless fund for kids in the play park but this is the second, and by far the most deadly error we can make in dealing with Anders Breivik – taking the moral high ground.
Yes, it is morally better not the massacre people. But we must understand this: We were no better than Breivik before Christ found us. There is not sin in him, no wrong thought or deed that does not also appear in us. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said: “The seed of every known sin lies within each of our hearts”. Perhaps your anger does not express itself as violently as Anders Breivik’s did but it is still there. It is still wrong in the eyes of God. You and I do not have the right to condemn Breivik as less worth than ourselves because we are not worthy. No one is.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Neither my warning against pride nor anger are to say that we cannot state that this is wrong. Nor to say that Anders should not be tried and punished. I merely warn that we must look deeply at our own state before anger and pride lead us to condemnation and to hate.
A biblical approach: Justice, compassion, Godly meekness.
There is one verse which I think sums up what our actions must be in response to this massacre. Micah 6 and verse 8:
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
So then there are three things we can draw out here in relation to the Norway killings and our response to Anders Breivik:
1. Do Justice. Justice must be done, Anders Breivik must be tried by the courts and he must be punished for what he has done, for the lives he has ruined and for the pain he has caused. God calls us to do justly, to be a people who yearn for justice to be done and we must do so in this case, as in all others. Practically therefore we must pray for justice to be done.
2. Love Kindness. Kindness, compassion, mercy. These must be the things that we love above all, although we call for justice to be done we must not take joy in the punishment of others. Our response to Ander Breivik must be one of love and kindness. Justice born of love, not anger or hate. Practically therefore we must pray for Anders, pray that Christ will make himself known to him.
3. Walk Humbly with your God. Above all we must never never ever lose sight of the most important thing in life. No matter what happens in the world the most important thing is that we walk with God, that we are ever drawn into closer fellowship with him and we must not let anything distract us from that. That will lead naturally to a humility that guards against pride and arrogance. Practically therefore we must pray that God will draw us to Him, keeping us humble and preventing us from becoming puffed up.
So therefore there are several things that we can learn from the Norway killings, I apologise for the rambly way that I have presented them. To recap: We must not hate, but rather love kindness and pray for our enemy, Anders. We must not become proud, but rather walk humbly with God. And yet we must not allow ourselves to lose our sense of justice in such a morally messy world.
I pray for justice to be done for the evil in this world and as I do I pray also that God shows me my own heart, shows me my own sin and keeps me humbly walking with him. I pray for Anders Breivik. I pray that his heart would turn to Christ. And I know that God’s grace is so amazing, so wonderful that were Anders Breivik to turn to him for rest, he would have it.
I know that if Anders Breivik were to repent tonight, then when the time came for him to die, that very day he would be in paradise with Christ. I pray that one day I find myself there and meet him, walking down those gold paved streets, hand in hand with the Christian people he killed. Ransomed, healed, restored. Stains washed away by the blood and the sacrifice of Christ. Forgiven.
I fear it is unlikely. But I know God’s grace is sufficient. Sufficient for Anders Breivik. Sufficient for me. Sufficient for you.