It was 2004. Wes and I had spent the summer on a team of seminary and college students who were tasked with one goal for the summer – get a New Testament into every home on the Muslim side of Beirut, Lebanon.
We’d seen some crazy, amazing things happen, with people telling us when we showed up that they’d seen us in their dreams the night before, right beside Jesus, who told them they were about to hear some good news. We’d seen some crazy, scary things happen, like getting chased out of a few buildings in an area of town where the local mosque’s call to prayer was nearly deafening. We met with maids and housekeepers who took the New Testaments we offered. We met with Syrian military officials who took the New Testaments we offered. We even met with the man whose great grandfather was the father of Beirut, a man who was in charge of all of the Muslim schools in the country.
We were expecting more of the same near the end of our time there when we were assigned an area near the south part of the city. At the first house, the door was opened by a man dressed in fatigues. We said our little greeting in Arabic, offering him a New Testament (an injil, in Arabic), and figuring he would send us on as he regarded us warily.
“The Koran says that blessed is the man who reads the Injil,” Wes said, parroting back this little tidbit of knowledge that we’d picked up that seemed to give the more devout Muslims we met a moment of pause, if nothing else. (A moment that usually saved us from being run out of buildings. Except for those times when we were, ha!)
At that, the man invited us into his home. Thank You, Isa. (The Arabic word for Jesus.) We noticed that he was one of many men in fatigues, all of them pulling on combat boots. This probably should have given us some concern, but we’d seen it all by that point in the summer. Our host had his wife prepare us some tea and Turkish coffee, which was quite hospitable and very much like the other Lebanese people we’d met throughout the summer. He had us sit on the couch and wait, and as soon as the drinks were out, we all tried to communicate through the language barrier.
Why were we in Lebanon? To share some good news. Were we Americans? Oh, yeah. Why were we giving people Injils? Because we follow the teachings of Isa.
Then, we asked a question. “Are you all going somewhere?” Wes asked as they continued getting ready in their gear.
“To the south,” our host told us. “We are Hezbollah.”
Well, this was new. As if to bring the point further home, our host’s preschool aged son came running into the room, waving an actual Hezbollah flag, likely prompted by his mother, who was watching us from the kitchen with some distrust.
Our host must have seen the apprehension in our eyes because he put his hands up and said, “No, no, we are the good guys.”
We’d seen some of the skirmishes over the summer. I’m not sure who started it, but the Lebanese and the Israelis regularly traded gunfire, illegal aircraft flyovers, and general mayhem back and forth across the border. Israeli jets had made it up to Beirut, and Hezbollah was going to pay them back. So ironic, since most of the people we met would tell us, “We are cousins. We are Ishmael; they are Isaac.”
“We are the good guys” played again and again in our minds after our time there in that home. We’d see plenty of evidence over the summer, thanks to the skirmishes between these two groups, to know that neither one of them was coming to the situation innocent. No, they were both exacerbating the problem. There were NO good guys. Each was so fueled by a righteousness of their own merit, though, that they couldn’t see beyond themselves and the good they felt was in them. It was as if they looked at their actions as acts of good works, done because their nationalism was so entwined with their faith that they couldn’t see their violence for what it was.
We are no different, friends. We live life as Christ followers, assuming that we’re the good guys. We’re not the good guys. There are no good guys. We are as fallen, as hopeless, as sinful, as wretched, as wrong, as selfish, as violent, and as evil as those who we label and think as such. Apart from the grace of Christ and His atoning work in our hearts, we are doomed to the same fate as everyone else. There’s this appalling sentiment I’ve sensed in some of our churches that we’re somehow better than anyone else, that we’re the good guys. Jesus is the good guy. But we sit with the rest of mankind, unable to see our own failings and faults, our own sins and depravity, because we are so blinded by self-righteousness and our attempts at good works.
There are no good guys. Apart from Christ and the work He mercifully did on the cross and the grace that He extends to us, undeserving that we are, we are doomed to the same fate. So before we begin to hate other people because we don’t understand them or because fate and location and culture has placed them on a side that we deem the “bad guys,” we need to take a step back and realize that apart from Christ, we are no different. As we do so, we should extend grace. We should pray for mercy. For them. For ourselves, as we fall into judgment and hate. I’ve heard such horrible, disheartening, and sad things from other believers about other faiths lately, and it distracts us from this truth – apart from Christ, we are no different. Instead of judgment and hate, fear and suspicion, we need to have a spirit of compassion and love as we see others. If there is no concern or urgency in our hearts as we regard those who are destined to Hell like we are apart from salvation in Christ, then we need to seriously question whether we have experienced the grace and mercy of Christ ourselves.
Share Christ with others, no matter who they are. He alone is the good guy.