As we pray for the people of Paris, as we discuss the nature of the terrorists who committed these crimes; as I think about the Christian students of Garissa University in Kenya who were killed for their faith; as I do my google search to discover the background of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the appointed Caliph of ISIS; as I remember a terrorist the U.S. loved to hate, Osama Bin Ladin, I’ve been pondering the question, “What happens when a terrorist meets God?”
Think about this man that so many hated. He was born in a small middle-eastern country bordering Syria. Born to wealthy parents; educated in the finest university in the country; some suggest that he was next in line to take over the family housing construction business. Yet at some point in his life there was a significant embracing of his heritage, especially his religious heritage. There is good indication that this was passed down from his parents, but we are not entirely sure.
What we do know is that in time he was radicalized. He became a zealous follower of his religious heritage, and he began to view the followers of Jesus as dire enemies to that same heritage. He gained the support of religious and national leaders; he began to gather people whom he could influence; and he began to terrorize those who did not have the proper fear of his God.
Christians especially were targeted, tortured, killed. But not just in his own land, he extended his reach to foreign cities. Less through his religious convictions and more through his terrorist strikes, he became a household name. Now we know that he was directly involved in the killing of many innocent people.
But then one day… as he traveled… to Damascus… intent on the development of a plan to instill fear in the hearts of those who didn’t follow his true way. He had an encounter with God, the one true God. A terrorist met God. In his writings he describes it this way,
At noon, along the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who traveled with me. Everyone fell to the ground and I heard a voice speaking to me in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you?” I asked. And the Lord replied, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. Now stand up! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant. Tell the world about this experience and about other times that I will appear to you. I am going to send you to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the power of God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people…”
Perhaps you realize the stinger in the story. His name was not Osama Bin Laden, or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, his name was Saul. Later his life was so radically re-created that he took on a new name — Paul. The person who wrote more of our New Testament was a terrorist who met God. One of the greatest missionaries to ever walk the earth was a terrorist who met God.
I’m not making a statement on whether we should or should not accept refugees. I’m not making a statement on whether or not we should use the word Islam to describe ISIS. I’m simply saying that whatever statements we make should be made with the somber wonder that no one knows what might happen when a terrorist meets God.
That should make us pray more for the world.