Man has murdered and maimed since the Fall from the Garden of Eden. Then as now it is God, the Creator of all things, who will be the final arbiter of justice. Cain murdered his brother Abel because of religious jealousy. Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord. Cain’s was not. The Lord sentenced Cain to a life as a fugitive and a vagabond. The Lord took sole responsibility to punish – no one else was permitted to harm Cain – for Cain’s offense was not solely against Abel but against God and His law. “Therefore whoever kills Cain,” [said the Lord,] “vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.” (Genesis 4:15 NKJV) Society cannot last when blood is spilled for blood in a never ending spiral of vengeance. Violence only begets more violence.
Human experience has taught that for peace to abide law must reign. That is to say, justice must be done by those in authority without regard to rank or popularity and must be seen to be done by the population at large. Everyone has the same right as the next – equality before and under the law. Vigilantism will break out when there is widespread failure in the rule of law as people lose faith in the authority’s ability to measure out justice.
We recognize that no society is perfect in carrying out justice. Human institutions, from time to time, will err and contradict each other allowing evil perpetrators to walk free. However, for the Christian there is solace in the recognition that there is an ultimate Judge who will not let injustice go unpunished. To attack another is to attack the very image of God Himself. He will not be trifled with. The Apostle Paul noted, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7 NKJV) For a time a dictator may abuse, rape, pillage, and murder at will and even though he or she may escape justice here on earth there is a final day of reckoning that no person shall escape the glaring eye of the Law Giver. Consider Amos 1:11-12 (NKJV)
11 Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Edom, and for four,
I will not turn away its punishment,
Because he pursued his brother with the sword,
And cast off all pity;
His anger tore perpetually,
And he kept his wrath forever.
12 But I will send a fire upon Teman,
Which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.”
Acts of inhumanity are acts against both man and God. They are acts against God’s law – the law of love for God and for man. Unfortunately, Christians have fallen short of the Lord’s law in this regard. Whether by acts of omission or commission Christians have participated in unspeakable crimes. It is very easy to point the finger at those who were placed in troublesome times and failed to live by God’s law of love. We smugly hold the view that we would not do what “they” did if we were in the same circumstance. May I suggest Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (NKJV) We must face the fact that the crimes against humanity were committed by human beings just like us. At the base we are no different. The so called “monsters” are human – they are children of God made in His image. What they did was make wrong, horribly wrong, disastrously wrong choices. We are as susceptible to the same evil as the most gruesome of human beings. It is simply one wrong choice after another – most start out “small” then grow into intensity until we are totally changed into characters unlike we would ever recognize. That is what is so scary about evil – we can never be at ease with it – we can never justify it.
After one of his presentations about the genocide in Rwanda, General Roméo Dallaire was asked by a Canadian Forces padre how, after all he had seen and experienced could he still believe in God. Dallaire tells of his response, “I answered that I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God.”
Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kibuye, Rwanda, along with his son Dr. Gerard had encouraged Tutsis, many of them Seventh-day Adventists, to go to the Adventist hospital compound in Mugonero. The Hutu Power mob was brought to the compound by the pastor and his son on Sabbath morning 9:00am, April 16, 1994. Normally, at that time from Sabbath to Sabbath the Seventh-day Adventists in the area would have gone to the same complex to attend Sabbath School and hear of God’s love and mercy to man. That Sabbath was anything but normal. Over two thousand Tutsi refugees had been corralled together. On April 12 the waterlines were cut, the pharmacy was locked, treatment was denied to the wounded and sick because they were Tutsi. “Peering out from their confines, the refugees at the hospital watched Dr. Gerard and his father, Pastor Ntakirutimana, driving around with militiamen and members of the Presidential Guard. The refugees wondered whether these men had forgotten their God.”
Sabbath, April 16 at 7am the Pastor received a letter from seven Tutsi Seventh-day Adventist Pastors who were among the two thousand at the Adventist hospital complex. Their letter was dated April 15, it was an appeal for help,
Our dear leader, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana,
How are you! We wish you to be strong in all these problems we are facing. We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. We therefore request you to intervene on our behalf and talk with the Mayor. We believe that, with the help of God who entrusted you the leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention will be highly appreciated, the same way as the Jews were saved by Esther.
We give honor to you.
Signed, Pastors Ezekiel Semugeshi, Isaka Rucondo, Seth Rwanyabuto, Eliezer Seromba, Seth Sebihe, Jerome Gakwaya, and Ezekias Zigirinshuti
9:00 am – Dr. Gerard arrived with a load of armed militia. The Tutsi pastors were “instructing the refugees to prepare for death.” The attackers came from all sides, the church, from the north, and south chanting “Eliminate the Tutsis!” People in the chapel and the school were killed first then those in the hospital. The police and militia used guns and grenades, the civilians used machetes and masus (a homemade weapon like a baseball bat with nails at the clubbing end). Teargas was applied throughout so that the screams of those who survived the initial attack could be discovered and executed. By midnight the massacre was complete.
In February 2003, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found both Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son Dr. Gérard, guilty of genocide. He served a total of 10 years and was released on December 6, 2006. He died the following month. On 27 June 2009, Dr. Gérard was transferred to Benin to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Robert Folkenberg, President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, spoke to a gathering of Adventists in Kigali in 1996. He stated that he had “spent time on my knees before God trying to understand ‘what happened.’ I have come to one conclusion—the gospel did not fail. The cross of Christ did not fail, the Holy Spirit did not fail—we failed! You and I failed! We, as pastors, failed. Christian clergy and priests and pastors failed! We must, I believe, confess our sins before God. As religious leaders we let down God, Christ, and the people of Rwanda. We have been satisfied to talk about Christ. We have been satisfied to talk about the cross. We have been satisfied to talk about religion and denominations. We have been satisfied to talk about rituals, lives, and practices—externals. But the fruit of our relationship with Christ shows that we failed.”
Dallaire asked himself, “Are we all human, or are some more human than others?” “If we believe that all humans are human, then how are we going to prove it? It can only be proven through our actions.”
Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2003), p. xviii.
Philip Gourevitch, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, (New York: Picador, 1998), p. 27.
Robert Folkenberg, “GC President Speaks Out About Rwanda Atrocities”, Adventist Review, March, 1996, 6.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5233