Joshua Milton Blahyi a passionate preacher living in West Africa. He has a wife, three adopted kids, and runs a mission for homeless children. In his spare time he enjoys playing chess. If you met him on the street, you would probably think he was an ordinary man with an upstanding sense of morality. But if you met him 20 years ago, you might feel differently.
From 1989 to 2003, nearly 250,000 people were slaughtered during the civil war in Liberia. Thousands of children served as soldiers on the front lines. Unknown to many Westerners, Blahyi was a brutal and sadistic general in his former life.
In his own testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he acknowledged that he participated in the slaughter of at least 20,000 people. During his testimony, he said that he and his fellow soldiers would play a ruthless game: they attempted to guess the sex of unborn babies by killing pregnant mothers. In other gruesome accounts, he recounted eating the hearts of victims in order to dehumanize their existence.
Blhayi claims that Christ has changed his life. He has made it his personal mission to repent to former victims, and if possible, offer restitution. He has even offered himself up to be put on trial for war crimes at the Hague, but to date has not served a single day in prison for his crimes against humanity.
I think many of us secretly feel angry over stories like this. It offends our sense of justice.
How can a man spend so much of his life murdering, stealing, and destroying the lives of others, only to live a relatively peaceful life with his family? It raises legitimate theological questions.
Appealing to our own sense of humanity, we attempt to justify this works-based view of grace. Are my sins just as heinous as Blhayi’s? Surely there are those who are more deserving of God’s grace, and others, like Blhayi, do not qualify.
The beauty of the gospel, however, is that God reconciles us to himself despite the fact that we miss the mark of perfection.
As I ponder the story of Blayahi, I am reminded that we serve an amazingly underrated God, who empowers us to overcome sin. I would be a fool not to take his free offer of grace, yet so many of us reject it.
The continuing violence against Christians in Syria and the recent terror attacks in Paris and Beirut are shocking. Every news cycle offers more evidence of the injustice that exists in our world. At times it feels like God has forgotten our concerns. The violence and oppression continue. The hatred multiplies. God, where is your justice? God, where are you?
Like Jonah, many of us are self-righteously angry over God’s seemingly slow response in that ancient City of Nineveh, now known as Mosul, Iraq, where tens of thousands of Christians have been slaughtered or driven out of their homes by ISIS militants.
But God’s timing is perfect. God cares for the countless children, adults, and yes, even murderers living in that region. One day, those who once would have served as future objects of His wrath will be restored. They will testify to His mercy and grace. Jesus is the only answer that can truly change the hearts of men.
This may be offensive. But what better testament of God’s grace for humanity? Even though I want to be angry and outraged, I can’t become bitter. I pray that God will give me grace to pray for both the oppressed, and the oppressors.
Photo by (flickr CC) Multimedia Photography & Design – Newhouse School