A couple days ago, tragedy struck in Paris. Many of us have been trying to process the news as it has been making its way across the world. We hear of the carnage, the blood, the fear, and the death. We hear the updated official numbers of people dead or wounded. We hear the stories from the survivors, we hear of heroes who stepped up to try and save those around them.
In the midst of it all we are all so deeply overwhelmed and we each process it in our own way.
Some are tempted to feel fortunate that they live so far away from it. They feel comfortable where they are, thinking that it could never happen to them. But deep down they know that everyone thinks that it can’t happen to them, until it happens. And there is no telling when and where it will happen again.
Some are tempted to feel rage at those who would perpetrate such heinous acts against other human beings. They will call for retaliation, they will want to send in the guns. They will call for a wrath of fury to rain upon the evil doers, that they would be eradicated from the face of the earth. They will call for justice, they may even call for revenge.
Some will be tempted to feel contempt for those who feel such rage. “Where was your outrage when something equally horrible or worse was happening in Beirut, or Nigeria, or Syria?” they cry. If someone does not express outrage for one thing, they must never be allowed to express outrage over anything, even though in most cases it isn’t the person’s fault that the media never reports certain things.
Some will be tempted to remind us that these radicals who commit these atrocities do not represent Islam. They will remind us that most Muslims are a peace loving people that are just as horrified at these atrocities as the rest of us. It may be true that these radicals are a “minority” among Muslims, but to say that their radical violence does not stem from their Islamic faith is foolhardy. As an American who was living overseas, in Uganda, when 9/11 happened, I can assure you that there was not much love for America among the supposed “Peaceful Muslims”. I remember as if it was yesterday, walking through the market place in the days and weeks following 9/11, the dirty looks, the maniacal laughter, the taunting, the jeering, the voices proclaiming, “Hey American! I know where Osama Bin Laden is, Ha Ha a Ha!” The majority of Muslims may not be strapping bombs to themselves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them are not quietly cheering on those that do in the privacy of their homes. The amount of death and carnage that the Islamic faith has wrought upon the world in the last 1300 years goes far beyond what any other religion has done. True, Christianity has a tainted past, but that is exactly the point, it is in the past. While a supposed majority of Muslims may be peace loving, a not so insignificant minority still continues to leave a trail of blood behind them, and that should not be ignored.
Still others will go the complete opposite, and will call for the elimination of all Muslims from our midst. They see Syrian Muslim refugees knocking on our doorstep and they are terrified to let more potential terrorists into our neighborhoods. They look with suspicion at all Muslims who are already here and feel threatened by them. While, as I mentioned, we ought to be cautious about the Islamic faith, and to not forget what it often brings, we also should not throw away our most precious freedom in this country, the freedom of religion. We cannot say that we value freedom, stand firm upon the First Amendment of the Constitution, and yet also seek to eradicate a major religion from our midst. While it is important to defend ourselves, if in doing so we compromise the very principles that make us free, then no matter who wins or loses the conflict, we will have lost ourselves in the process.
The last few days I have seen all of these thoughts and feelings expressed by so many. Some people may express one or more, or various combinations of all these feelings. And as I process the enormity of this atrocity, and what it means for freedom and peace around the world, I must admit I have thought and felt all of them to varying degrees at one time or another.
As an American I feel a great fear of the Islamic faith, as many of its followers (be they a majority or minority) at one time or another has chanted, “Death to America!” I am terrified that another attack will soon be made on our soil and I want to call in the cavalry to descend upon ISIS and wipe them off the face of the planet.
As a human being I feel great empathy for the pain and suffering that the victims and their families and loved ones are experiencing. I think about if my own wife, or children, or brother or sister were in that catastrophe, how horribly painful it would be for me. I feel a great sense of solidarity for the French people as I remember how I felt on that fateful day over 14 years ago on 9/11.
But I am not just a human being; I am not just an American; I am a Christian. How should a Christian feel about this?
As a Christian I might be tempted to feel even more threatened by all of this. After all, it is first and foremost our supposed “Christianity” that these radicals are seeking to destroy. They attack Western Culture because it is believed to be a Christian Culture. Perhaps someone should explain to them that our culture is becoming more and more secular every day, and that very little vestiges of Christianity really remains, but that will probably not really help very much.
But fear is not what we as Christians should be feeling right now.
As a Christian I should not be surprised when someone seeks to harm me for my faith, and I should even consider it reason to rejoice:
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)
As a Christian I must not forget that Jesus lived and died so that all people might be saved, even those who commit horrible evil acts, there is no evil that is not beyond the forgiveness of God:
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)
As a Christian I must remember that I am called to love my enemy:
You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … (Matthew 5:43-44)
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21)
As a Christian I must not forget that no matter what wrong shall befall me, I must never seek revenge:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35)
Christ has called us to be His hands and feet, to carry the good news of His Gospel to all the ends of the earth. Christ has called us to remember that we have been forgiven of our own crimes against God, and that our job is not to cast condemnation upon anyone, but to reach out with a loving hand to try and pull them from their own destruction and pray that they reach back. Christ has called us to remember that before he saved us we were mired in our own sin and evil, and that it is only by His Grace that we can see evil for what it truly is. We must not let our fleshly instincts for revenge blind us from the truth, and remember that but for the grace of God we too could be capable of such horrible destruction.
I know this is probably not a popular message. I’m sure very few people out there can say they genuinely feel love for ISIS and other terrorists right now. To be honest, I am having a hard time with that myself right now. I don’t know if I can say right now that I truly love them. If I muttered a prayer to God on their behalf, I don’t know how truly genuine it would be. I can’t say that if I heard tomorrow that they had been bombed into oblivion that I would feel sympathy or sadness for their souls. This is one place, among many, where I really do fall short from the Glory of God’s goodness and grace. This is one place, among many, that I know I have sin in my heart.
But I pray that God may overwhelm my sinful heart and show me His perfect love. I pray that God could help me see the terrorists known an ISIS for how he sees them, lost sinners in need of redemption. I pray that God would show me how he can actually love them, even though what they do is so despicably terrible.
I am not saying that we ought not to protect ourselves from destruction. I’m not saying that we, as a nation, or as a union of nations, should not fight against ISIS. There comes a point where evil is so destructive that good men and women must stand up to protect and defend all that is good and pure. Has ISIS reached that point? I believe it has.
I am by no means saying that it is wrong for us to stand behind the people of Paris. In truth, I am filled with a great sense of pride in the show of support that I have seen among my American Brothers and Sisters for the people of France in the last couple of days. Recently it seems that most French view Americans as arrogant and ignorant (for which many of us are guilty) and most Americans view the French as pretentious and self-conceited. But I am extremely proud that when it comes down to it, when our long-time allies are under threat, we can look past our differences and stand strong with one another.
But as we stand up to defend our allies, and to defend ourselves, let us not forget who we are, and what we are fighting for. We are fighting against evil, not human beings. Let us not forget that our desire is not to destroy our enemy, but to defend our families. Let us not forget that our goal should not be for our enemy’s condemnation, but their salvation.
If war is brought to our door, we should not be timid or weak to let it destroy us. We must righteously stand up and defend all that is good. But we must do so with the right attitude in our hearts. We must not forget that we are Christians. We cannot defend goodness while there is anger and evil in our hearts. We cannot defend freedom with vengeance in our hearts. We cannot defend grace, with un-forgiveness in our hearts. If we let the carnal desire for blood and revenge take over and unleash our wrath upon our enemies, we may win the war, but lose our souls in the process.
And what good is it if we save the world, but lose our souls?
May God be with the people of Paris, and all victims of terrorism around the world.
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