For many of us, it is difficult to put the preaching of forgiveness into practice. When the Saints Church in Alexandria was bombed this past New Year’s Day, it was hard to forgive the perpetrators. The fears and frustrations of the Coptic Christians opened the floodgates of their anger and caused several hundred Christian rioters to clash with helmeted police. These rioters threw stones and bottles and even attacked Muslim passers-by (Associated Press). The images of violence were, of course, captured and disseminated in the international press.
Many may consider the behavior of the Coptic Christians justifiable, but it was not Christ-like. Christ also knew righteous anger. Accosted by the image of unholy activities in the temple which had turned His Father’s house of prayer into a den of thieves, Christ had showed His wrath. However, He did not carry a banner of violence into the streets, and certainly did not indiscriminately attack innocent bystanders for the crimes of the guilty few. I’m not saying Coptic Christians should not be allowed to speak out against oppression or peacefully protest against the government; in fact, they should. I am saying that, in the hands of sinful men, righteous anger becomes easily confused with something else that’s sinful: wrathful vengeance.
I admit it would have been very difficult for the Christians in Egypt to forgive, and it still is (I can imagine from my own shortcomings regarding this practice). I also admit that I have never been called on to forgive wrongs as brutal, unjust, and undeserved as those the Coptic Christian community would have to forgive. But this should not be an excuse. Christians perform not just the difficult but the very impossible by having faith in and being motivated by God’s limitless possibility every day. The fact is that, right or wrong, our actions reflect our God, and the images of hostility in Egypt caused by Christian rioters offer up a bad reflection. If those who had aggressively rioted had instead passionately prayed for their enemies (Matthew 5:44), and that they themselves could—by God’s strength—forgive them, that would have been a sight to see, and that would have been a worthy testament of their Christ to the world.
It is true that all of us do wrong and are done wrong to. But the difference is, we as Christians should be the first ones to forgive. We were commanded by our Lord Jesus to forgive the same person, ofttimes for the same sin, not once, not twice, but “seventy times seven times,” the point being as many times as the sin is committed. That is the unrelenting goodness of our Lord’s forgiveness, one that we are called to resemble for mankind. And even while I and the Christians around us undoubtedly fail at certain points in our lives, Christ’s expectation for all of us remains high—unaltered by our failings and misdirected performances.