As of this writing, another deadline has passed in the continuing hostage standoff between Taliban insurgents and the South Korean and Afghan governments over the kidnapping of 23 Koreans – Christian volunteer aid workers – in Afghanistan. Two have been killed by the Taliban because the Afghan government refused to swap imprisoned insurgents for the hostages.
This case has many complexities, including questions about whether the workers were attempting to spread Christianity among Muslims, what role the US government should play, if any, and the merits of paying ransoms or accommodating kidnappers in other ways. Much goes on behind the scenes as families and friends wait, hope, and pray. In fact, South Koreans have gathered in churches nationwide to pray for the hostages' release.
Prayer is something you and I can do also. One thing that has comforted me is that both Christians and Muslims see God as having a merciful nature. While each side may interpret that quality differently, it opens up a little door – a way of saying that the death of the innocent couldn't possibly be what a merciful God would desire.
As I prayed to understand God's mercy in relation to this hostage situation, I revisited the Bible's account of the time when Abraham thought that God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac in order to please Him. While I admire Abraham for his obedience, it's his faith that moves my heart.
When they arrived at the place God had designated, Isaac – not knowing his life was in grave danger – asked where the sacrifice was. Abraham replied, "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:8). I like to think that even at that point, Abraham was putting his hope and trust in a God of mercy and goodness, not in a bloodthirsty tyrant. And of course, Isaac wasn't sacrificed. Instead, a ram caught in a thicket met the need.
This God of mercy and goodness can guide all parties to a peaceful solution that preserves life in a way that helps avoid having one group or the other lose face before the world. Already there is some flexibility as the South Korean congregation that sent the group has agreed to obey government warnings about the danger of travel to Afghanistan and is withdrawing another group from that country. This wise step can help alleviate some of the tensions.
But there is still more to do. In our prayers for the hostages, we can turn to our merciful and loving God and affirm that all involved are under His guidance and care. Each individual, male or female, is the spiritual idea of God, meant to express love, not hate; tenderness, not brutality. And we can strengthen our prayers by our efforts to express these qualities ourselves as we go through each day.
As Love's creation, man naturally expresses love, intelligence, strength, purity, goodness. And in this stalemate, all parties will benefit from our affirmation that this is the true nature of each individual, no matter what part of the situation he or she may be involved with.
Intelligence is especially important so that no extreme actions are taken that may lead to greater heartbreak or hardship. According to the teachings of Christian Science, God, or divine Mind, is the source of all intelligence. It follows then that each of us – Taliban, Korean, Afghan, all people – can express intelligence and wisdom because we are all spiritual ideas of the one Mind.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good.... The cement of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity" (p. 571).
Prayers that affirm the spirituality and intelligence of all parties constitute the "cement of a higher humanity." Our willingness to join in such prayer for the Korean hostages – or for people anywhere who are in such trouble – is the best contribution we can make to bringing them home.