We woke to news of the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Emwasi, Jihadi John, through a US-led drone strike in Raqqa. Though I am viscerally pacifist, I believe taking out one man who beheaded many with psychopathic calm is defensible.
MI5 feared terrorist attacks in retaliation, and by the evening, they came. Multiple attacks in Paris at a football game, a concert, a restaurant… leaving 129 dead.
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I felt particularly stunned because we had spent a week in Paris a fortnight ago. What a gorgeous city, we thought, as we wandered again through the Luxembourg Gardens, the Bois de Boulogne, and the Jardin de Bagatelle. Explored the Cathedral at St. Denis, near the Stade de France. Explored Chartres, where one of the terrorists lived. Dreamed around iconic Paris, where scores of innocent people were suddenly maimed or murdered while savouring la belle vie, sports, music, gastronomy.
Rattled and upset, I started praying, “So, Lord, how should I think and feel about this? How do you?”
For intelligence counts for nothing, really. What matters is spirit-breathed intelligence, in other words, wisdom; wisdom to think correctly, in the way God thinks, to feel in the way God feels.
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So what might God say to his church, in a time of shaking, when the nations are in uproar.
“Let your soul be at peace. Let nothing disturb you. Fly to me, hide yourself in me. “For she who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will sing in the shadow of the Almighty. She will say of God, ‘My refuge, and my fortress. My God in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91).
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What might God be saying to his beautiful church in an age of terrorism?
“Have hope. My kingdom began inauspiciously, in failure, shame and disgrace, but it grew and grew. And it is continuing to grow. Be full of hope.”
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Bill Hybels famously said, “The local church is the hope of the world,” and church leaders love quoting that. However, the quote has no scriptural justification. Local churches are not the hope of the world–they get off-track; can have toxic, wolvish, controlling leaders; can lose all spiritual fervour in church politics. They can die on their feet, and who doesn’t know churches like that? A really bad local church, sadly, can cause as much pain as good.
The hope of the world is Jesus Christ, the good news Jesus taught, the Gospel.
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Revenge for revenge locks us into an endless cycle of escalating evil. ISIS attacks Paris in revenge for French airstrikes in Syria. Francois Hollande vows to retaliate “mercilessly.” Yeah, we woke Monday morning to news of 30 airstrikes overnight on Raqqa, in Syria, at least 20 bombs dropped.
I felt no rejoicing. Airstrikes are not precision instruments. Among those killed will be those who had nothing to do with the Paris attacks. Among those killed will be someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s father, someone’s sister, fully as innocent as the Parisians who were murdered on Friday 13th, 2015.
Will these airstrikes be effective? Western interventions in Islamic nations have historically been ineffective; look at Iraq and Afghanistan today! Western invasions of Muslim nations have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind for invader and invader alike. Despite losing thousands of fighters every month, ISIS was able to cause utter mayhem in Paris with just eight jihadists. Perhaps the French response will crush ISIS. If it is hugely disproportionate, however, it will raise up more fanatical men and women willing to die to avenge innocent loved ones who died in the airstrikes.
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My father told me the plot of The Merchant of Venice when I was a child, and I was fascinated. Shylock, the immigrant, scorned and mocked by the Venetians, dare not deny a loan to Antonio, the merchant of Venice. However, he demands a pound of flesh if Antonio can’t repay it on time—and Antonio can’t. Shylock gleefully sharpens his knives. Finally, Portia invents a quibble: Shylock was allowed a pound of flesh all right, but if he took one drop of blood, yeah, or an extra ounce, even the weight of a single hair, his life and goods were forfeit to Venice for scheming against the natives.
Revenge can never be exact. It will always include blood and hair, with the flesh. The victims will always feel the revenge was disproportionate and will seek flesh, blood and hair of their own to balance the scales, take too much, setting themselves up for counter-revenge.
Against this zero-sum game of tit-for-tat, the words of Jesus come like mercy showers, like gentle rain from heaven. Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who persecute you. Taking out your enemies by goodness is the only way out of the endless circle of tit for tat, mercilessly ratcheting in intensity.
Of course, doing good to your enemies does not succeed in neutralising every enemy…but then neither do airstrikes. Neither does bombing.
Revenge causes sadness, stress, mental and physical illness in our personal lives. And revenge is just as devastating in the life of nations.
The way of Jesus–to enjoy peace with God, to enjoy God’s gifts of joy and quietness, to seek God, and to love one another…it’s the only hope in a world blinded by hatred.
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Missionaries were traditionally motivated by the desire to save people from hell.
But following the way of Jesus–so gentle, so kind, so powerful, like a nuclear bomb in a velvet glove– is the best way to live. Definitely worth introducing people to.
One quarter of the world’s population is Muslim. Nine out of ten Muslims have never met a follower of Jesus, it is estimated. When I think of how knowing Jesus, and knowing the followers of Jesus has sweetened my life, the very thought of that makes me very sad.
Reaching the Muslim world with the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ is one of the greatest things we can do for world peace. One of the best things for the future of the world in which we will live, and which our beloved children and, God willing, grandchildren will inhabit.
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So what can I personally do? What can you.
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Secondly, and I mean this seriously, not as a what-Christians-say-instead-of-doing-things comment.
I will pray.
I went to a conference in central London this weekend. The organizers told us not to drive since there was no parking anywhere near the conference. Roy and I drove anyway (in our motorhome, in fact!!) since I could rest between the conference and the conference dinner to which I was invited, and during the drive. I prayed for favour–which is what I now do when I need to park where parking is impossible. We drove up; we asked the guards to help us find parking; they opened up the courtyard of the conference venue to us, and we parked there, a minute from the front door of the conference. In Central London. For free!
Roy reminded me of the times I had prayed and found parking just outside the Vatican, outside the Tate Gallery, outside the Natural History Museum in Kensington, London, and in Oxford…just as miraculous.
“Maybe you should begin praying for favour in things other than parking, Anita,” Roy said. And so I will.
What works in the micro-level works on the macro-level. If prayer works when we pray for our finances, for our children, for their university admissions, for our safety, or for a parking spot outside the Sistine Chapel, it will work too when we pray for the conversion to Christ of the fierce fighters of ISIS. As our prayer for our daily bread is heard, so too will our prayers for the coming of Christ once again to the Muslim lands, not so very far from the land where once upon a beautiful time, Jesus came to earth.
In my German-run boarding school in India, in the seventies, the nuns had us pray, “Bring Russia back home again.” Russia had then been atheist for 70 years. Who could tell that in a decade the Iron Curtain would have collapsed beneath its own weight?
Prayer for Christ to reveal himself to the Muslim world is as powerful as any other kind of prayer. I will pray, and give.
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Thirdly, I will keep my spirit pure. I will do my best to keep negativity and hatred out of it. I know, from examining my own spirit, that anger, judgement, condemnation, and religious intolerance are visceral responses at such a time.
We must not give way to racism or hatred. We must replace our natural anger with prayer for the attackers and for our world, as Jesus commanded us. Anger, racism, hatred, judgement, negativity: these are Group 1 carcinogens for the spirit, spreading, and spreading, sapping our strength, stealing our joy, purity, light and focus, eventually darkening our spirits. We must avoid these as rigorously as we avoid other Group 1 carcinogens (asbestos, cigarettes, arsenic, ham, bacon and sausages). We must rigorously work to replace our natural negative reactions with prayer for our enemies, with prayer for the Spirit, and with love.
Thanks for reading, friends.
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