Like many, I woke up on Easter to the tragic news of the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka. Having buried a daughter and my mother, I can only imagine the grief gripping those who lost children, spouses or parents in the blasts. Whole families were obliterated, but the victims included more than the terrorists’ targets.
Those who carried out the attacks are victims too – victims of a hate so fierce that they buckled on bombs and took their lives in a fiery explosion with the aim of slaughtering others. And what of their children, spouses and parents, left not only with the loss of those they loved but with the terrible knowledge that they used their lives to destroy others?
Having endured three decades of bloodshed that has killed nearly 400,000 people, Sri Lanka is no stranger to conflict. One national, Prashan De Visser, is working to change that by mentoring young people who are often recruited by extremist groups to carry out these attacks. His organization, Sri Lanka Unites, helps young people ages 16-29 from all ethnic and religious groups learn, grow and work toward peace together at reconciliation centers throughout their country.
“Don’t repay hate with hate,” De Visser posted on Facebook following Sunday’s attack, which killed more than 350 people and injured an additional 500. “But in LOVE we will overcome together.”
Underneath these words, he posted a picture of children, arms raised, all wearing their finest clothes, during their Easter performance at Zion Church in Batticaloa. Minutes later, a bomb tore through the sanctuary, reportedly killing fourteen of them. Yet, rather than calling for revenge, De Visser, a Christian, called for love. Why?
“Love your enemies!” Jesus said. “Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). Later, in the same passage, he said, “A talmid is not above his rabbi; but each one, when he is fully trained, will be like his rabbi” (6:40). This quote, from The Complete Jewish Study Bible, emphasizes the words’ historical significance. A talmid is a student – one who lived with his teacher and studied him carefully so that he might become like him in every way.
Hard as they may be, Jesus’ words were not hypothetical. We know this because while nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” for those who put him there (Luke 23:34).
This reveals two truths. One, students of Jesus must forgive like Jesus. And two, there is no sin too big for God to forgive. That is why, after the attacks, instead of calling for revenge, De Visser offered to protect Muslims from retribution. “If anyone lays a hand or causes any harm, pain or discriminates against our beloved Muslim brothers and sisters, you are no better than the terrorists,” he wrote. “We will stand by you. You have our word. Our churches are open as safe houses for you. Our houses are open to you.”
Indeed, the only power stronger than hate is divine love.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Best Birthday, the third book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available now. Connect at www.meadowrue.com