Last week when I heard the news about the attacks in Paris, I was outraged and deeply saddened—a sentiment that has increased as the week’s events have continued to unfold, giving way to a clarification of Jesus’ distinct and compelling call.
Familiarity with the theatre and the cafes where people were shot has made these attacks close and personal, disturbing me to the point of occupying most of my thinking this past week. Five of the six attacks happened quite close to the neighborhood and church where we lived and served in 2011 and 2012. Our then 16-year-old daughter Anna and I attended a Jesus Culture concert at the Bataclan Theatre—the same venue where 89 people attending the Eagles of Death concert were gunned down a week ago today.
One French friend told me that what most unsettled her was that six attacks happened simultaneously, setting off a cloud of insecurity and fear across all of Paris. This fear has now spread across Europe and North America—catching us up with much of the rest of the world.
Fear and insecurity had already overwhelmed Lebanon and Turkey in recent weeks due to suicide bombers, and the Russians have now officially attributed the downing of their flight over the Sinai Peninsula to a bomb. Refugees continue to flee Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and other places due to war, and Palestinians and Israelis live with threats and violence every day. Everywhere we look, violence produces terror, begets acts of vengeance, and accelerates the cycle of killing.
How are we to respond? My first reaction was a longing to be there in Paris with our friends and the church communities we know and love. I emailed friends, struggled to pray, poured over the news, and prayed some more. A few thoughts come to mind as I seek God’s wisdom regarding responses to current events, combined with links to articles I hope you find useful.
1) Love and worship the One God, Father, Jesus the Son and Holy Spirit with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Find your security in God’s unfailing love and care. Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money, security, safety)(Matthew 6:24). Let God’s perfect love drive out all fear.
2) Inform yourself through reliable news sources, such as Oliver Roy’s article on the strategic limits of ISIS. Most secular news media, however, focus on the negative, provoking insecurity and fear. The more hidden work of God’s Kingdom goes unreported.
While sleeper terrorist cells and dangerous individuals are indeed imbedded in most countries, activist followers of Jesus committed to love and good deeds are also imbedded everywhere, far outnumbering jihadists. While hundreds of European jihadists do return to Europe after fighting alongside ISIS in Syria, many Christians also return to Europe and North America from schools of transformational ministry around the world. While many more Christians still need to be mobilized, Jesus followers share the Gospel, care for the homeless, reach out to immigrants and refugees, visit the sick and elderly, care for the disabled, visit and minister to prisoners and engage in countless acts of love. The church in France is steadily growing, and many of our French friends tell of an increase of spiritual hunger since the attacks against Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
3) Pray for God’s comfort and for peace. Intercede for the French people; for the families of the victims; for immigrants and refugees; for Muslims the world over, for men and women involved in ISIS and other terrorist organizations (see this), for European leaders and our own leaders in these dangerous times. Pray for the church and for people of peace to be further mobilized everywhere.
4) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), Paul admonishes persecuted believers. Rather than being caught up in the wave of fear and agreeing with policies that emphasize destroying enemies in the interests of national security, or prohibiting desperate refugees from making their way to safety, focus on what it looks like to deliberately overcome evil with good! Let us think on and pray about this!
5) Move in full alignment with the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead—not with the ruler of this world, the thief who “comes only to rob, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). When the sons of Zebedee ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven (think “hellfire missiles”) on the Samaritans that have refused Jesus entry, Jesus rebukes them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55–56). For over 34 years I have ministered to violent men, seeing many give over their lives to the God of life. Let us join Jesus fully in his commitment to seeking and saving those who are lost.
6) Actively love your enemies and pray for persecutors. Mourn the death of enemy combatants rather than celebrating their destruction. Earlier on November 12, the same day terrorists struck in Paris, a US drone attack annihilated four men in Raqqa, Syria, including the infamous Mohammed Emwazi, otherwise known as Jihadi John—the British man who brutally beheaded a number of Western hostages last year. The following day, November 13, a US airstrike killed Abu Nabil, the head of ISIS in Libya. These acts, together with France’s heavy bombing this week of the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, will most likely increase animosity, radicalizing and mobilizing still more jihadists and fueling more reprisals that will lead to still more violence and death.
Those who kill will themselves suffer greatly, as a recent interview with American drone operators in Nevada clearly shows. Followers of Jesus must actively follow Jesus in our treatment of violent offenders—distancing ourselves from all killing as we seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness visible in Jesus’ earthly life.
7) Actively engage in Jesus’ ministry as he lived it in the Gospels, in the company of believers who love each other. This is the only compelling alternative that can compete with jihadist adventurers seeking a utopian vision. Jesus embodied the Father’s lavish love for sinners, proclaiming forgiveness and love made concrete through healing the sick, embracing outcasts, casting out evil spirits from the tormented, confronting oppressors, and preaching the good news of “on earth as in heaven.” Let us step forward into this ministry, empowered by the Spirit, seeking to share this vision and recruit new followers before others recruit them.
8) Welcome immigrants and refugees rather than agreeing with growing moves to exclude them. Now is the time to embrace the most vulnerable people into our nations, seeking ways to humbly and intelligently serve them—bearing witness to God’s life-giving love in Jesus.
9) Be willing to suffer and die in active love and service of God so that the world can see the extremity of God’s care. Muslim fighters willing to blow themselves and others up to advance their cause demonstrate a high level of commitment—albeit it producing the evils of death, chaos and terror.
In contrast, martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero declared: “The only violence that the gospel admits is violence to oneself. When Christ lets himself be killed, that is violence—letting oneself be killed. Violence to oneself is more effective than violence to others. It is very easy to kill, especially when one has weapons, but how hard it is to let oneself be killed for love of the people!”
An army of totally surrendered Jesus followers out to demonstrate God’s grace and power on behalf of the poor and oppressed will advance and penetrate into the places of greatest darkness and need, announcing and embodying authentic hope.
In this climate of fear, God’s perfect love in Christ must be proclaimed like never before, countering the rhetoric of opportunistic politicians with a more compelling vision. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses,” writes Paul from his cell as a persecuted apostle of the suffering Messiah (2 Corinthians 10:4). Now is the time to arm ourselves for battle with the weapons of the Spirit embodied by the Savior of the world, who has won the battle by “losing,” by giving up his life as a ransom for many.
Please read this insightful letter from a dear British friend ministering in France for many years, Andy Buckler, and pray as he indicates.
From Andy & Uta Buckler
Paris, 18th November 2015
I am writing this letter five days after the terrorist attacks on Paris, whose indiscriminate bloodshed has caused at least 129 deaths and hundreds of wounded. It has been a difficult time, and we have been very grateful for your ongoing prayers and messages of support.
The recent events have brought about a strange atmosphere in Paris. Three days of national mourning and a state of emergency with hundreds of arrests on charges of terrorism, and police and army everywhere… underline the reality of the continued threat. But unlike the attacks last January, there is no mass outpouring of emotion, no big demonstrations. We’re told the security threat is too important, but it also feels like people are determined to get back to normal life as quickly as possible, if only to show that the terrorists have not succeeded… Except that the nervousness and emotions are not far beneath the surface.
Last Sunday I preached at Saint Denis a short distance from the stade de France where three terrorists blew themselves up two days before. The service had been planned with a missional theme, with young people giving testimonies about their evangelism experience abroad last summer, and commissioning for a small Fresh expressions initiative in central Paris due to start next week. The service went ahead and was great, but I found myself really challenged about what it means to be witnesses in the current context.
“You have heard that it was said ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. (Matt 5,43-44)
Over the last few days, we have been passive witnesses to terrible events. But as Christians, we are of course also called to be active witnesses of a different reality that Jesus calls the kingdom of God. It is easy to loose sight of this Gospel perspective in a media saturated society where attitudes are so easily forged by powerful images and strong emotions.
This doesn’t mean we retreat into an escapist world, seeking to deny reality and its pain and sorrow. But rather that we believe that God is present in the midst of the pain of this world, precisely where we do not expect it, or where are tempted to think that he is absent. God’s love is greater than hate, his life stronger and more real than the forces of death at work around us.
Last weekend I also spoke at two of our regional synods on the theme of being an “Eglise de témoins” (our term for a mission shaped church). There too it felt strange to be talking about mission in such a painful context (especially in the Paris synod), and yet it seems precisely at this time that being a witness is so important. As citizens of the world we are witnesses of the terrible events that shape us, and yet as citizens of God’s kingdom we need also to be courageous witnesses of God’s other perspective which brings peace and hope.
Being witnesses of both at the same time is not easy – it involves being weak and hurting, and yet spiritually discerning, refusing to let our earth bound perspectives determine our identity or shake our confidence.
In Christ, we can become prophetic signs of his presence, through simple, but radical love. Sometimes such signs come in surprising ways. I was struck by the reports of numerous people last Friday night opening their homes to those caught in the attacks and with no way of getting home. The media called this a “surprising gesture of fraternity and solidarity”, which it was! But I like to think it was also a sign of God’s light in the darkness.
So do pray that Christians here would be able to be and to discern around them signs of God’s loving presence in this difficult time. Pray for the local churches that are opening up their doors for people to talk and pray. Pray too for the small teams from different Paris churches that will be available to talk and pray with people around the different sites where the attacks took place. This is a good initiative, but requires great spiritual sensitivity in the current climate.
In this climate, we hear a lot about the terrible effects of “radicalism”, often said as if any sort of strong religious conviction necessarily breeds intolerance and hatred. But what we desperately need today in its place is not simply a collection of consensus-based human values (although these are good), nor an insensitive proselytizing zeal, but a new form of radicalism – the radical love which comes from and through Jesus Christ.
It is the radical love of Christ that enables us to love not only our neighbour (which is hard enough!), but also our enemy. It opens the way to forgive and forgive again. To pray even for forgiveness for those who “know not what they are doing”.
This goes far beyond what politicians can possibly suggest. It is totally unreasonable and unrealistic. In fact it is impossible, unless the lifeblood of Jesus himself is running through our veins.
But it is also a treasure that shines through our contradictions, mixed-up emotions and pain. And it is promise and hope in our disorientated world.
We really need to pray that God will give us grace to allow this radical love to shine through our acts, thoughts, words, prayers, however simple and insignificant they may seem to be to us.
For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor 4:6-7)
Please continue to pray for France at this time.
Secrétaire National Evangelisation et Formation
(National Secretary for Evangelism and Training)
Eglise Protestante Unie de France