taking the words of Jesus seriously

I turned on a couple of the cable news channels last night and the outrage du jour was over Rolling Stone’s decision to run  featuring Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (nicknamed Jahar by one of his teachers because his classmates couldn’t spell or pronounce Dzhokhar).

Wow. All this sanctimony over a magazine cover from the people who put the kid’s picture on our TV screens non-stop for more than a week back in the spring.

I understand why many people are upset. The front of Rolling Stone is where we want our rock stars, not our terrorists. We’ll tolerate a dictator or murderer on the cover of TIME, but not on the cover an iconic pop culture magazine (which, in reality, has always included stories about politics and current events, even more so in recent years).

It also doesn’t help that Rolling Stone used a photo designed to appeal to Tsarnaev’s preteen and teenage girl groupies— kids on social media who are either convinced that Jahar is innocent, or that he’s a good boy gone bad that they could “fix” if only they had a shot with him. Rolling Stone didn’t airbrush devil horns onto Tsarnaev into the photo, and they didn’t add a red glow to his eyes. Killers should look evil, doggone it. Or crazy, like James Holmes or  (who, by the way, also showed up on the cover of Rolling Stone once upon a time.) We just can’t have someone who was involved in something so evil presented in a way that makes him look so, well,  normal.

Last night, one of the cable news hosts was complaining that Rolling Stone had attempted to make a monster seem more human.

But he is human. And that’s what some of us seem to be forgetting.

Humanity is capable of all kinds of wickedness. There’s some really messed up stuff that goes in this world, and unfortunately, thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to be influenced by evil. Religious extremism, racism, hate sites, pornography. It’s all out there, and if you think your family and your church are immune from it, you’d better reassess things.

Based on the Rolling Stone article and previous news reports, it seems that Jahar was a fairly normal American kid who allowed his troubled older brother Tamerlan to influence him in the wrong way. Tamerlan, it seems, was dealing his own demons (maybe literally) and had turned to radical Islam for a number of reasons. I probably don’t need to tell you how influential older siblings can be in the lives of younger ones. Add the fact that Jahar felt like a fish out of water and became somewhat of a loner as a college freshman, and you have a recipe for something bad. Now most American kids may not be susceptible to this kind of religious extremism, but I’m betting there are comparable poisons out there they are prone to falling prey to. If you’re the parent of a teenager, and you can’t see a little of your own kid in Jahar Tsarnaev, you’re out of touch with reality.

There was a diabolical component to the Boston marathon bombings, and I’m not just using that word for effect. I mean devilish, demonic, influenced by spiritual forces of wickedness. Tamerlan Tsarnaev had reportedly told his mother he was feeling more and more like there were two people inside him, and his mother was the one who had pushed him closer to Islam for answers. There may have been mental health issues too, since these problems often accompany demonic oppression or, in more extreme cases, possession. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but ultimately, the older brother’s problems began to contaminate the younger brother.

When sin and evil are left unchecked, they can spiral out of control and spread like a disease. Our adversary doesn’t just target the immigrant kids, the kids on the other side of the tracks, or the kids who follow other religions. There’s a bullseye on the ordinary Christian kids too,  even your kids. And if you’re doing any kind of ministry that rocks the boat and builds God’s Kindgom, I’d say especially your kids. Don’t look down your nose at somebody else’s messed up children, even the ones that commit murder, and think that your children couldn’t go bad too.

Related: The Myth of Redemptive Violence – by Shane Claiborne

Whatever happened to redemption? Is Jahar Tsarnaev too screwed up for Jesus to save?

Let me be clear. Tsarnaev should receive a fair trial, and if found guilty (extremely likely considering the overwhelming evidence against him), he should be locked up. But let’s set aside our anger for a moment ask ourselves what Jesus could do in the life of Jahar Tsarnaev and how God could use him if he came to Christ. God has used murderers before. Even those who thought they had killed people in the name of God.

I question Rolling Stone’s motives for putting Jahar Tsarnaev on their cover, but I don’t think it was necessarily a bad decision. We need to be offended. We need to see how easy it is for a regular kid to be influenced by the wrong things, follow the wrong people, and do unspeakable evil. We need to picture the teenagers in our own families and churches in Jahar’s position, if for no other reason than to realize how critical it is for us to pray for them and to become more involved in their spiritual formation.

Let’s pray that Jahar gets to know Jesus, who died for him and for us.

Shane Raynor lives in Nashville, TN and is an editor and blogger at Ministry Matters. He has also contributed to Circuit Rider,  Good News, and Outreach. Shane is a Bible geek, news junkie, social media addict, and serious coffee drinker.

This piece originally appeared at .

Photo Credit: salon.com

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