It took only a matter of hours, if not minutes, for the world to know that terror attacks had taken place in Paris this past weekend, and if you’re like me, you have likely been inundated with numerous Facebook updates, tweets, news articles, and interviews regarding this horrible series of events. Often when we are flooded with so much detail, our response can become despair, cynicism, or an equal response of hate for what has occurred.
The attacks in Paris were traumatic; and in many ways, we could respond with anger, violence, despair, or cynicism unless we can discuss and discern a way to respond that follows and embodies Christ and gives us direction as a church.
I am personally thankful that this is not the first time that as the church, we have seen suffering. For centuries, the church has lived with those who suffer and cried with those suffer, and so I would like to suggest 7 ways to respond to this past Friday that I think come from our long tradition of peacemaking and responding to pain and suffering as Jesus does:
- Mourn – (Matt. 5: 4) Remember the loss of innocent lives that took place this past Friday. Mourn for their families that survive them. Mourn that the few individuals who committed these terror attacks believed violence (and particularly violence against strangers) was the only answer to their pain. Mourn also the violence that takes place on a regular basis in many parts of the world (ie. Beirut, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, etc.). Mourn the times when we ourselves have been violent.
- Create space for people to cry – Allow people to express their pain at seeing the events of violence. We do not heal if we judge people for honestly expressing their pain and anger.
- Be patient – (Rom. 12: 12) The instinctual response to trauma is to do something. We think to ourselves, “Don’t just sit there and do nothing!” But we must resist the temptation to do something just for the sake of action. Too often when we respond quickly and out of pain, fear, and anger, we end up perpetuating thoughtless pain, fear, and anger. The Paris attacks took place not even 72 hours before this blog was posted. There is time to discern truth and an appropriate response to events.
- Resist fear and hate – (Rom. 12: 9) When we are faced with fear and hate, we believe it must be met with equal fear and hate. Terrorism does not attempt to achieve the practical defeat of an enemy. Its purpose is to sow fear, hate, anger, and violence as a response. When we respond with fear, hate, anger, and violence, we have fulfilled what terrorism hoped to achieve.
- Look for love – (Rom. 12: 21) Only good can overcome evil. Hate is a cycle, and sometimes the only way to break a cycle is to give it a different kind of fuel. How can we break the cycle of hate by fuelling it with love? What can we do that refuses to give in to hate and stands for hope amidst the darkness of fear?
- Work for peace – (Rom. 12: 17-19) Align with those who suffer. Terror thrives on the perpetuation of violence and hateful acts. When we respond with violence, it is too often used to justify further violence: “See? We told you these people were decadent and violent!” We take away the impetus for terror when we show that we will only respond in acts of peace; especially when we extend those acts of peace to our enemies.
- Pray – Prayer gives us the quiet space to actually listen to God, and it reminds us that our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual forces in our world that can influence us to make destructive choices (Eph. 6: 12). We do not live in a universe where God sits back and watches the events of history unfold. He is active in our world and actively partners with us to be His body in the world (I Cor. 12: 27). Pray that God would show us His heart in the midst of this tragedy. Pray that God would give us direction. We also pray for our enemies that we might disarm the logic they use to commit these acts of violence; that they may turn from hate; and that peace would truly be made when they are no longer our enemies.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” – A Christmas Sermon for Peace, Dec. 24. 1967