Saturday, September 13, 2014

“It’s Not What We Came For”

The Daily Mail Online has this interesting headline:
‘I don’t want to be a jihadi ... I want to come home’: How dozens of British Muslims who went to Syria to join ISIS ‘plead to return to UK after becoming disillusioned with the conflict’
Of course, after the fashion of many news outlets, the actual story fails to provide sufficient facts to judge whether its headline is accurate or whether it is merely the fond wish of the British media. Other news stories about ISIS show at least some of its adherents demonstrating considerable enthusiasm for their cause, to say the least.

Assuming the story is accurate, this is one ISIS fighter’s reason for his disillusionment:
“We came to fight the regime and instead we are involved in gang warfare. It’s not what we came for but if we go back [to Britain] we will go to jail.”
I’ll decline to express an opinion on what the British government should do with individuals of this sort since I don’t have a dog in their fight. I’m more interested in the sort of regret they are expressing, because it seems rather insubstantial.

Deficient Repentance

Does their remorse have any moral component? It would seem not. Instead, these belatedly regretful jihadis seem to be saying they made a mistake burning their British passports because (1) the situation in which they find themselves is not as it was represented to them, and (2) their current circumstances, which they chose of their own free will, are not to their taste.

It sounds like if ISIS had given these ex-Brits a different enemy to kill, everything would’ve been just peachy.

Bait and Switch

While the old ‘bait and switch’ may have caught a few dozen excitable young Muslims off guard, it should not come as a surprise to readers of the Bible. The Devil, as the Lord said, “… speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies”. Eve found this out the hard way back in the garden of Eden when the serpent said to her, “You will not surely die”. And she didn’t — not right away at least. But her gullibility has had consequences for every subsequent generation of mankind.

Things are not always as they are represented; that should not shock us. But it seems a little much to expect that, having torched a British passport and all the benefits that come with it in hope of joining the emerging Caliphate, a rueful jihadi can simply push a reset button and return to England as if nothing had ever happened.

Esau and Repentance

It reminds me of this scripture:
“For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
(Hebrews 12:17)
The writer to the Hebrews is speaking here of Isaac’s son Esau (the brother of Jacob, who became the father of the Israelite nation). The blessing of the double portion should have been Esau’s, but in Genesis 25 we read that he traded his birthright to his brother for bread and a bowl of lentil stew when he was particularly hungry after a hard day in the field. As a result, when confronted with the consequences of the deal he had made, Esau “… cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father!’ ” He went on to complain that Jacob had cheated him by taking away his birthright.

Regret, Remorse or Repentance?

There’s much more to the story than that, but I’m particularly interested in the quality of Esau’s regret, because it does not seem that he actually repented any more than those remorseful British Muslims. In fact, Hebrews clearly says he “found no chance” for repentance.

1.    His primary motive was the blessing. Hebrews says he “desired to inherit”. But sometimes a sinful course of action we have taken cannot be reversed, or comes with consequences we didn’t anticipate and don’t like. Esau wanted what he had lost, not restoration to fellowship with his father or with God for his failure to rightly value his birthright. And for him, as is often the case with us, there was no going back to the way things might have been, tears or no.

2.    He was into revisionist history. He said of Jacob, “he has cheated me”. This was true in one instance (the blessing) and entirely untrue in the case of the birthright, which Jacob traded for ‘fair and square’, as we used to say. As long as we insist on rationalizing our actions or making up stories, we have not repented. The true repentant heart does not ‘spin’. The prodigal, whose repentance was genuine, said to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”, demonstrating that he owned and recognized his guilt. He did not look for anyone else to blame.

3.    He was tearful, but not sorry. Unlike the prodigal son, who recognized his error as well as the sorry state into which it had led him, and returned home willing to be a mere servant in a home where he would originally have had an inheritance, Esau’s primary concern was what might have been and how to get it back. There was no request for forgiveness or acknowledgement of how the whole birthright thing worked. Instead, he simply cried “Bless me too”, as if he merited some special recalibration of the traditional system of inheritance on the basis of his particular circumstances. He was sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the sin itself.

True repentance acknowledges what got us into trouble in the first place. It doesn’t cover it up. True repentance doesn’t blame anyone else for our mistakes. True repentance doesn’t expect a full restoration of privileges, blessings or circumstances we have forfeited by our choices. And true repentance is more concerned with seeking a restoration of fellowship than in avoiding punishment.

As for the young Muslims in the Daily Mail story, maybe they should try the script uniformly employed (to some minor effect) by disgraced American politicians. Something like, “Mistakes were made” or “If anyone has been offended by our actions, we are deeply regretful”. Right now, I’m not sure anyone in England (other than Labour backbenchers, of course) is buying what they’re selling.

Whenever repentance is genuine, forgiveness is available, as the Lord Jesus taught. But “it’s not what we came for” — or its equivalent in our own circumstances — just doesn’t cut it.

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