Last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the subsequent actions seeking to bring the perpetrators to justice rightly captures our hearts and minds in a wide variety of ways. The sheer barbarism of the attacks spreads anxiety and fear among the bravest. A deep sense of vulnerability saturates the most stalwart among us. How are Christians to respond to terrorism in today’s world? In a real sense, terrorism by its very nature puts our faith as Christ followers on trial. It challenges us at the core of our beliefs. Are we willing to hold to Christ whose very presence is announced with the angelic admonition “fear not!” (Luke 2:10)? My initial response to the news of the Paris attacks was white hot fear-driven anger. Only on calming down, entering into prayer, and engaging in less heated reflection did I realize that terrorism puts my faith on trial. I believe our Lord’s admonition to love our neighbor. I am committed in principle to the Savior’s call to holiness in rejecting hate. The words of Jesus echo in the throne room of my mind. “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). I am conscious that it is easy to be Christian in times of peace and plenty and in settings of safety and joy. I am also quite aware that the test of the Christian faith comes on the streets of Paris, in rhetorical punditry of television and the cancer ward of the local hospital. Our faith is put on trial in:
- The temptation to reject the Lord’s leading and be driven instead by a desire for revenge. Prayerful reflection and careful thinking are at a premium if our response is to be faithful to the gospel and Lordship of Christ. Those who enact such evil must be brought to justice. There is nothing Christian or holy in allowing terror to reign unchecked. Let us be clear - terror and terrorism is an outgrowth of Satan’s rage. And yet, we must also be carefully clear and faithfully obedient in our response. Matching evil with evil is not the way of Christ. We seek justice not vengeance (Romans 12:19).
- The engulfing emotions of fear and fear driven disregard for others who are in dire need. Our model, guide and ruler is the one who was crucified for others, notably for those who were (and are!) guilty of sin. Instead of living under a reign of fear, Jesus reached out stretching His arms wide in an embrace of love. Let us be sympathetic to each other as we wrestle with fear’s grip. Fear is a natural and in some ways healthy response to the horrors of unchecked terror. It alerts us to the need to take protective steps and seek justice for all. The Christian difference is not that fear is not present. It is rather that fear does not reign. It does not rule! Christ alone is Lord! However powerful our emotions, they too are subject to Him. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18).
- Our vulnerability mixed with fear and anger which seduces us to react by blaming the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee. Terrorism is a tool of evil which, if left unchecked by Christian values and by the rule of Christ, can lead us to the unfaithful response of prejudice. It is worth carefully noting that the earliest Christians consistently refused to simply take care of only other Christians. They consciously and in allegiance to Christ reached out to any in need. There were no litmus tests for who should receive love and care. Teachings from Jesus like the Parable of the Good Samaritan drove their actions. (See Luke 10:35.) Instructions like James 1:27 were a basic part of the fabric of their response, “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” Let there be no mistake. To only take care of Christians or just be concerned about Americans is not worthy of the gospel. It is not faithful to the clear teaching of Christ. (Check out Jude 1:12 and its explicit rejection of those who care only for themselves.)