The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is calling on supporters to find the addresses of military families through social media, then “show up and slaughter them.” The jihadist group is already known for beheading or crucifying men, raping women, and burying women and children alive. Why are they acting with heinous violence? Because they believe they are required by God to do so.
Muhammad conveyed the Qur’an in three stages. The first, given while he was living in his hometown of Mecca from A.D. 610 to 622, is conciliatory in nature. It includes statements such as “let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “to you be your Way, and to me mine” (109:6). The second, given after he moved his followers to Medina and established the first Islamic community (known as the ummah), requires Muslims to defend Islam. It includes statements such as “fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits” (2:190).
Tragically, Muhammad authored a third section of the Qur’an before he died, authorizing aggression against non-Muslims. These so-called “sword verses” contain such statements as “fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them. . . . Fight those who believe not in God” (9:5, 29). There is a seismic intellectual divide in Islam today over the way these sections should be interpreted. Moderate Muslims believe the later sections should be understood in light of the earlier texts. They view the sword verses as we interpret God’s command to kill the Canaanites—tragically necessary for establishing the people of God, but not binding on us today.
ISIS and similar groups believe just the opposite. They follow the doctrine of “abrogation,” which teaches that the later revelations supersede the earlier. Thus they believe they are obeying God when they “strive hard against the unbelievers” (9:73) and “fight those who believe not in Allah” (9:29). They take literally the command that non-Muslims “should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off” (5:33). They believe women captured in battle can be raped or made into sex slaves: “All married women are forbidden unto you save those captives whom your right hand possess” (4:24).
Do these verses express the heart of the true God? Allah loves only those who merit his acceptance (see 2:135, 3:31). The true God of Scripture loves us as we are: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
I once heard a sermon based on John 3:16, titled “Three Things God Can’t Do.” First, he loves us so much he cannot love us any more than he already does: “For God so loved the world . . . ” Second, he gave us so much he cannot give more than he already has: “that he gave his only begotten Son . . .” Third, he made salvation so simple he cannot make it any simpler: “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Is your relationship with God based on what you do, or what God has done?