The news from Paris is all too familiar. More bombings. More shootings. More blood in the streets. It goes without saying that we stand with France, and its citizens are in our prayers. At the end of the day, it’s another senseless massacre in a time of violence that none of us really understand.
In the coming days and weeks, there will be no shortage of opinions about the killings in Paris. From political sound bites to Facebook posts, we’ll be inundated with messages about ISIS, Islam and the future of the Western world.
Likewise, I think it’s nearly certain that France, the U.S. and our allies will double down on security and ramp up the fight against Islamic extremists in Syria and other parts of the world.
Even people who are committed to peacemaking have a breaking point, a moment in which the need to protect the innocent outweighs the argument against the use of violence. If we hadn’t reached that point yet, it feels like we’ve reached that point now.
The call of the gospel in a time of violence
The Islamic State is evil and oppressive. But as Christians, we have to recognize that our response to ISIS presents another danger. Left unchecked, fear can cause us to paint the world with broad brush strokes. To lump everyone of a certain skin color or nationality or religion in with the those who live to do us harm is wrong.
If we allow the evil of terrorism to make us hard, if it causes us to abandon Jesus’ call to stand with the oppressed and welcome the stranger, then the terrorists really have won.
When I heard early reports indicating that at least one of the terrorists was a Syrian refugee, my heart sank because it provides fuel for the ideological radicals who have already painted the entire refugee population as terrorists.
The displacement of hundreds of thousands of people creates chaos, and chaos provides a perfect cover for a small number of evildoers to slip through the cracks. But here’s the simple truth:
The vast majority of refugees aren’t terrorists. They’re fathers and mothers — just like you and me — who are trying to protect their families from ISIS.
Should Europe and the U.S. establish policies about the manner in which refugees enter our countries? Absolutely. Should we be diligent about rooting out Islamic militants from the scores of honest people seeking asylum from the violence in Syria? Obviously.
But what we can’t do, what we can never do, is to allow our fear to change our faith and the gospel values that separate Christianity from every other religion and ideology in the world.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says,
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
The world has changed. We live in a time of violence. But the gospel has stayed the same. Let’s hope our commitment to the call of the gospel stays the same, too.
A prayer for the world in a time of violence
In a time of violence,
We turn to you.
Lord of sorrows,
Who is burdened
With the cries still echoing in Hiroshima,
With the broken bodies of women and girls in the Congo,
With the blood flowing in Syria. In Paris. In our own backyards.
In a time of violence
We gather to mourn and pray
For our communities,
Past and present,
Local and global.
In a time of violence
We commit ourselves
To the difficult work
So we may honor
The suffering and pain
Of our sisters and brothers.
O Lord of Sorrows,
Give us the courage
To speak the words
Of peace again and again
So they might flourish
In an arid land.