2 Kings 6
During all the years of the American-led war on terror, there have often been debates about how best to bring change to the Middle East—particularly about how to change the hearts and minds of those who seem intent on destroying Western culture and peoples. Many think it is wrong for us to use military force to accomplish these goals, and they offer other solutions instead, ranging from outright ignoring the problem to pacifism or targeted kindness.
"Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you." (Lk 6:27) These words of Jesus have been used as a justification for just about everything, from the way we treat terrorists to the way we ought to rehabilitate domestic criminals. After all, so the logic goes, if aberrantly-behaving folks were simply exposed to love and kindness, it would melt their hearts and they would change. All our problems would be solved.
Well, it didn’t seem to work that way in 2 Kings 6. The king of Aram waged war against Israel and sent an army to kill the king. But every time the army laid a trap, the king of Israel was wise to it (thanks to Elisha, the prophet of God). Finally, the king of Aram got fed up and sent the army after Elisha. However, instead of capturing the prophet, the army found themselves taken captive. When the king of Israel discovered this, he was ready to kill the prisoners, but Elisha said, "'Do not kill them. Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.' So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.'" (vs 22-23)
Wow! It really does work! Elisha treated the captives with kindness and mercy, and the king of Aram learned of this treatment and ended his war with Israel... until the next verse, that is: "Some time later, the king of Aram called his entire army together, then they marched to Samaria and attacked. They kept up the attack until there was nothing to eat in the city. In fact, a donkey’s head cost about two pounds of silver, and a small bowl of pigeon droppings cost about two ounces of silver." (vs 24-25)
Whoops. I guess Elisha’s kindness in feeding his enemies was repaid by his enemies causing a famine so great that the residents of Samaria eventually resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.
What does this mean? That, unfortunately, God’s mercy doesn’t always change hearts. You’ve seen those bumper stickers that say Love Wins, haven’t you? If people think that means that love is always going to soften the hearts of the enemy, they are sorely mistaken. Unfortunately, in that sense, love doesn’t always win. Sometimes evil just laughs in the face of love and keeps on coming.
So, does this mean that we shouldn’t be merciful? Of course not! But it does mean that if we are going to espouse mercy and kindness, we ought to do it for the right reasons—not because we’re looking to change someone else, but because acting kind and merciful is its own reward. God is not merciful because He’s using it as a ploy to change us. God is merciful because that’s who He is—whether it changes our hearts or not.