On Saturday, the 3rd of January 2015, a Jordanian pilot by the name of Muath al-Kasasbeh was killed. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was executed by ISIS militants who captured him when his F-16 fighter jet crashed. But the bottom line is that he was murdered by sin. Locked inside a cage and doused with gasoline, Muath al-Kasasbeh was burned alive. Before his immolation, he looked like this:
His captors and killers filmed his death. The video was made into a propaganda film by ISIS posted on various sites on the internet, and is readily available to be seen. I have watched the video in its entirety. It is a gruesome, and I would argue a necessary, reminder of the depravity of humankind. It shows the depths of human sin, just how vile we can be when we are filled with senseless hate, rage, and the desire to inflict pain without consequence. I wish I could say that I have never encountered such sinful acts before, but that would be a lie. I knew all too well what humanity is capable of through my studies of the Holocaust and Christianity. Yes, Christianity. Christian history reveals that those who bore the name of our Lord Jesus Christ were not only capable, but all too willing to torture and kill. We did it to outsiders in the Crusades, and we did it to our own in the Inquisition. We did it to our neighbors, the Native Americans, in the United States of America: commanding them to convert or die. Christians are not exempt from sin. There were people who worked in the concentration camps during the week and worshiped in church on Sunday. The heartbreaking truth is that deep within all of us lies the ability to do these atrocities. Every human being is capable of evil, because we are all prone to sin. The vast majority of us will never perpetuate sin like that which killed Muath al-Kasasbeh, but we all need to know that sin is alive and well in the hearts of humankind. It makes the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ all the more imperative.
While Christians do sin, we are confronted with another way, a holier way in our faith: the way of God Almighty, embodied in the ministry and life of Jesus Christ. We are offered grace for our sin, and shown another way to go forth to live out our forgiveness. While I have to acknowledge that I am capable of the evil actions that killed Muath al-Kasasbeh, I am empowered to resist them, and seek another way to live. At a time when people ask if Christianity is still relevant, I watched the horrific death of a man who was a devout Muslim, and thought, “God, we need the faith of Christ more than ever.” So it is that I watched the film. I prayed for the man who died, his killers, and those who suffer because of this act. I pray that we can find another way, and the courage to follow it. I pray that we can use the outrage of such diabolical acts to fuel our desire to be transformed people of peace, rather than retaliatory people of vengeance, spreading the violence in a war of wrath. I mourn Muath al-Kasasbeh’s death, and pray that God will reunite him with his loved ones who suffer and mourn now in the Day of Resurrection to come. If we needed a reminder of what unbridled sin can look like, we have it. And, if we ever thought we were incapable, then let us heed the warning of the prophets and Jesus that we are wrong.