I have hesitated to write about the awful atrocities at Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. I have listened, and observed, and mourned, and prayed. This, I think is the right thing to do at such times. Now that I speak, I do so with trepidation, aware that so many are filling the void with words. I believe the silence is better filled with prayers, and I am all too quick to speak rather than pray.
It’s so hard to process these events, whether we’re up close, or viewing from afar. It is tempting to fall into despair, or hatred, or – perhaps worse – shrug it off as something that happened to ‘other people’ and go on with our day as usual.
How do we respond when other humans commit atrocities? The Bible passage that comes to mind for me is 1 John 4:17-21. In it, I see three things that might help us to process these tragedies.
1. Don’t fear
As a friend astutely observed: the trouble with terrorism is that it works – it brings terror. The people who were killed were ordinary people living their ordinary lives: they are ‘us’. If they had no protection, how will we? It is a natural reaction to feel terror and fear in the light of these acts. Indeed, it is part of why terrorists do what they do.
“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” I John 4:17-18, The Message
I don’t want to glibly say, “therefore, don’t fear!” as if it were an easy thing to do. It’s natural and reasonable to fear that we or our loved ones will be attacked. My point is that it is necessary for the Bible to mention it precisely because it is so hard to do. It is a discipline and a struggle – for those near to the attack, especially, but also those of us watching from afar – to live without fearing that we will be attacked, but a struggle that we must engage in. A life lived in fear is not living, but cowering.
2. Don’t hate
There is a right anger and outrage that follows when we see mass murder. It is right to be angry at injustice – we know this because Jesus gets angry with injustice. But there is a subtle distinction between anger (the burning white fury at injustice) and hate (the blackened, hardened dehumanising of others). The apostle John’s argument is, because people are created in God’s image, if you hate the people you can see, you will also be hating the God you can’t see.
“If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” 1 John 4:20-21 The Message
It feels hideously trite to end with ‘love’ as though this response to terrorism were a Hallmark card with glittery flowers on it. And yet love is the most revolutionary, most defiant response possible to an act of terror. It calls us to love one another – full stop. It calls us even to love our enemies (as Jesus commanded). To love is not to conjure up a warm feeling towards mass murderers or say that what they did doesn’t matter – it is to look straight into their eyes, see their sin (recognising ours, too) and love anyway. To love doesn’t mean pardoning their murders – it simply means you recognise their personhood. You say, ‘they are me, and I am them’.
Terrorism seeks to dehumanise: the terrorists dehumanise those they murder as infidel, so that their consciences are salved, and we in return dehumanise the terrorists as monsters rather than people, so that we don’t stare for too long into the abyss of evil and recognise anything of our likeness in there. We are not all murderers, we are not all terrorists, but we are all sinners. We are not all sacrificial rescuers like the father in Beirut who threw himself onto the bomber to save lives, but we are all capable of love.
It is a natural response to want to creep back into the safety of our tribes, to draw lines about what makes us ‘us’, and them ‘them’, but it is not the way of love. Love crosses boundaries and borders; it dares to stare people in the eye and love them for their personhood, their humanity.
God is love, through and through – daring, defiant, powerful love. God calls us to love others in the way that God alone loves: seeing them truly, loving them entirely.
This is what the apostle John may have said in response to the recent terrorism: Don’t hate. Don’t fear. Love.
I love the way writer Julie Rehmeyer expressed it in the aftermath of the Paris attacks:
“Isis represents a tear in the fabric of humanity. If we pull hard against it, we’re only going to rip it further. Instead, we need to reach across the gap, starting at the places where it’s narrowest — no, starting where the fabric is still whole and moving toward the places where the gap is narrowest — and stitch it up.
“The Parisians who were killed last night, the Parisians in hospitals fighting for their lives, the Parisians whose children slept through the attacks who are now struggling to figure out what to tell them, the Parisians who over the next weeks will jump at every car that backfires — they are not simply victims. They are doing the work of the healing the world. They are sacrificing in order to do that work. Their loss and their pain is not meaningless. By suffering, and continuing to reach for the wholeness of humanity in spite of that suffering, they’re helping to heal the world.
“And it’s not just Parisians — it’s all of us. We’re all dealing with trauma from those attacks. Healing from that trauma is noble, critical work. So let’s get to work.”
I want us to be gentle with ourselves as we process all that has happened – it is natural to fear, natural to hate, natural to respond by intellectualising or blocking out what happened. But the best way I know is love, and though it may take me a while to get there, that’s the path I’m going to choose.
“We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19, The Message
“The best way I know is love” – @Tanya_Marlow on how to respond to terrorist attacks:
“We are not all terrorists, but we are all sinners”- @Tanya_Marlow on terrorism, fear and love:
“Don’t hate. Don’t fear. Love.” – @Tanya_Marlow on 1 John and how to respond to terrorism:
“Terrorism dehumanises; love looks people in the eye.” @Tanya_marlow on how to respond to the recent attacks:
How should we respond when other humans commit terrorist acts? @Tanya_Marlow offers 3 suggestions via the apostle John:
Over to you:
- How have you responded to the Paris attacks?
- What do you find helpful when confronted with the evil acts of others?
- Whom do you fear? Whom do you hate? What would it take for you to be able to love them?
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