It is a feeling that is becoming all to common.
The sensation of your stomach dropping when you hear about a terrorist attack that has just happened somewhere around the world. The mix of righteous anger, sadness and indignation all blended together as you watch events unfold in real time on the news and social media. More and more we are seeing terrorism and violent assaults on innocent people with no rational reason or cause other than the ugliness of human hatred and sin. Just in the last year:
- A radicalized muslim killed 50 people and injured more than 50 more in an attack on a night club in Orlando.
- 19 girls were burned alive in iron cages in front of a crowd of hundreds for refusing to have sex with their Islamic State captors.
- The Islamic State executed 12 Christians, including a 12-year-old boy, after they refused to abandon their faith and convert to Islam.
- 89 people were killed and over 200 injured in an attack at the Bataclan theater in Paris that culminated in two of the three terrorists killing themselves and others by detonating suicide vests.
In moments like these many followers of Jesus scramble to respond to violence in a Christ like way, while at the same time trying to understand why things like this happen. There are not a lot of easy answers. Paul, trying to encourage Timothy to stay rooted in his faith, tells him that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, but evil people and impostors will flourish (2 Timothy 3:12-13). Jesus tells his followers that here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but that we can take heart, because he has overcome the world. (John 16:33). All we can conclude is that suffering is part of life, and that those who put their faith in Jesus will overcome through him.
The greater question for christians is, “How should we respond to violence and terrorism?”
Jesus dealt with a similar question in Luke 13:
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.”Luke 13:1-3
To answer the question of how we should respond to violence and terrorism, Jesus points to a recent tragedy the people in the region witnessed. It was an act of state sponsored terrorism in which Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, commanded the brutal murders of Jewish pilgrims on their way to the temple. This calamity caused the deaths of many people leaving, the people in Jesus’ day to ask why? Was this punishment from God? Were the people who died worse sinners than the rest of us?
Jesus responds and speaks to whether or not those who suffered deserved it because of their sin – no, they didn’t. They weren’t singled out for their sin. Tragedy does not equal divine punishment. But then Jesus pivots away from the “why” of this disaster to “what do we do now?” The fragile nature of life gives it urgency, and Jesus uses the urgency of life and death to talk about what is really important: repentance.
In the aftermath of a violent attack, the main thing on Jesus’ mind is, “How can we bring people to a state of right relationship with God?”
He doesn’t leverage this tragedy to rail against the wickedness of Pilate or the oppressive Roman government. He doesn’t use it to call out the sin of those who were killed. He doesn’t attempt to promote his own personal or political agenda at a time when it could have gotten him a lot more followers. He focused on the thing that he wanted for us more than anything else – a restored relationship with God.
As followers of Jesus who live in a world of turmoil, violence and terrorism, our response should be a renewed focus on repentance and turning to God. Political activism through social media on the back of disaster may be a great way to advance a political cause, but Jesus took no part in that. Those debates can’t save the world anyway. Hope for the world can only be found in repentance and turning to God, and followers of Jesus must stay on point with this priority.
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep…Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.Romans 12:15,21
We grieve with the victims of violence as well as their families and friends. We weep with them. And in times of great sorrow, the best good we can do is the greatest good of all – continue to point people to Jesus, the one who has the power, strength and love to overcome for each of us. May the greatest good that comes out of the darkest evil be the restoration of right relationship between God and the people who turn to him in the aftermath.