Why We Can Be Free from Terror, For Good This Time
I am horrified by what happened in Beruit, Paris, and Kenya. I am disgusted by the contempt and utter disregard shown by these murderous attackers. While I wish I could say I’m unfamiliar with the feelings you get in reaction to such an attack, I can’t say I am. Instead, all the old feelings of anxiety, fear, and grief come flooding back from the last time our world was rocked by terror.
I think we can fight back. I believe we can be free from terror–once and for all. But the way to be liberated from fear isn’t obvious–it’s very counterintuitive.
Will retribution bring us freedom?
I’m not just disgusted by the violence and senseless chaos. I’m also disgusted by the reactions of so-called Christians who want to repay vengeance with vengeance. In our anguish we’ve forgotten what it looks like to forgive our enemies, which by all means must include “not killing” them. If forgiveness involves releasing our oppressors from our judgements, and holding no desire for retribution over their heads, how can we expect to justify even our most “measured” violent responses?
I’ve heard Christians make cases for justifiable war and some of them are quite compelling. But when they argue this way, they never speak on behalf of Jesus. They speak on behalf of the State. They talk about protecting the innocent, and preventing greater evil with such compromises. But they never talk about it as a strategy of forgiveness and reconciliation. The best arguments are concessions in a fallen world. Essentially, to choose violence is to confess we’ve lost our hope and imagination. We just can’t see any other way.
Of course the fog of war begins to clear when we ask ourselves the harder questions in light of human history. There is a pragmatic reason not to try to defeat terror through terror.
We must ask, “if we kill our enemies before they can kill us, will the violence cease?”
Let’s drive the point home. We have every confessing member of ISIS disarmed in a big room and you’re holding a button that will turn their brains off in one painless instant. They have all sworn solemn oaths not to repent or relent from their murderous intent. You could throw them in prison but you know some of them will escape.
The real question is not, “would you press the button?”, as I think we’d all be tempted. (I know I might cough and hit it by “accident”.)
The real question is, “if you did, would we ultimately be safer?”
These same Christians who claim violence is our only option, and twist scripture to justify such advances, are the first to confess that their solution isn’t permanent. Sure, it makes us “safer” but it doesn’t make us safe. Why? We understand, better than anyone, the deceitfulness of sin and the corrupt evil growing in the hearts of men.
We carry with us the preposterous notion that no-one is immune from this contagion, and yet we also have the audacity to believe no-one is beyond redemption!
I understand how it isn’t practical to love our enemies. I understand the governments and empires of this world will not agree to our forgiving agenda. I can see how some bent on revenge will feel offended by our mercy. But Romans 13 gives me confidence that God can bring order and good out of the retributive instincts we see in the systems of our world. Whether I like it or not, those who haven’t submitted to Jesus are going to carry the sword. But I also believe God can use their retributive instincts to bring good out of chaos.
I’ve heard confused and troubled Christians, who must have a hard time reading the story of Jesus, seek to justify their instincts by pointing to the Old Testament, or the wild and speculative imagery of Revelation. They just can’t appeal to the story of Jesus’ sacrifice. Others use certain texts, especially the Romans 13 passage I mentioned, to make it seem like God endorses revenge if governments get to do it–but they quickly backpedal when those same scriptures are applied to the Nazis or the Empire of Rome.
Some have even tried to say Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness only apply to individuals, as if we can ever separate ourselves from one another. Does this mean that the families who have suffered loss at the hands of these terrorists must forgive them personally–but then if they get a sanctioned coalition together, they can take their revenge?
Suddenly, forgiveness becomes a great ethical theory but means nothing in practice.
Others point to Jesus’ use of a whip in his cleansing of the temple as some sort of desperate attempt to make Jesus a violent person (neglecting to mention the very story that mentions a whip mentions the animals he drove out of the temple–animals who would be used to crowds and need coercing.) But these Christians aren’t saved through a whip–they’re saved through a cross. And Jesus didn’t hang his enemies on it.
When will we acknowledge how the way of peace requires our own sacrifice?
The hardest thing to face, when you choose the way of peace, is the accusations of cowardice–as though refusing to repay evil with evil is somehow easier than retaliation.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing!” they cry, reaching for their swords. But Jesus just stands there as they take Him to the Cross. Who are you following again?
Ultimately, some Christians are just disappointed in Jesus.
If we claim to follow Him, and if we believe His refusal to react was not a failure, we must not raise the same sword he already commanded us to put down.
Will restricting immigration bring us security?
The outpouring of support for Syrian refugees has been so encouraging. Naturally, though, Facebook is always ready to make you more sober about the future of humanity.
The most overlooked consequence of fear is how it requires an outlet, whether you like it or not. Fear is cold and latent like propane, until a health scare, a family crisis–or, of course, terrorism–throws our tank into the fire. We need a relief valve. If we can’t energize our anger with our fears, and if we can’t retaliate and maintain our cause of peace, then surely we can hunker down and protect ourselves from outsiders?
I’m not saying everyone who calls for wisdom, in handling this immigration issue, is afraid. I’m just confessing I am afraid. Everyone knows how terrorism works: attackers target public spaces and create civilian casualties. Suddenly we no longer feel safe and our irrational concerns seem logical. What kind of prejudices am I willing to tolerate for safety’s sake? A great deal, apparently. Especially when I hear people say taking refugees dying in the middle of a war zone is simply “not worth the risk”.
I get it–our fears have to go somewhere. But if we’ve subscribed to the way of Jesus, we’re not permitted to protect ourselves this way. Jesus hangs the whole basis of his final judgement on how we treat the neglected, the poor, and the stranger–people most epitomized by these refugees! How can we justify protecting our own interests at the expense of doing the very thing He commanded us?
I’ve heard Christians say, “our people come first.” This in itself is a contradiction of our namesake. If you are a follower of Christ, you don’t have a “people”, unless by this you mean “all of humanity”. You are not first Canadian or American, Liberal or Republican, even male or female! You are first and foremost the humble recipient of grace–a refugee into the land of redemption!
You are the ambassador of a world for those beaten down by fear–a world the hopeless have stopped believing in. Everyone is invited to take shelter in this invading reality (we call it the kingdom of heaven) or nobody is accepted at all.
You do not get to enter and then close the door behind you. This is the way–perhaps the only way–you exclude yourself.
Yes, we are taking a risk by welcoming anyone into our country, or our home, or our places of worship. It’s the way of the world, and especially the way of the hurting, to try to love without these kinds of sacrifice. As followers of Jesus, we advocate as sheep in the world of wolves–choosing the impractical risks even though we know they will cost us something.
And we embrace people because we see the face of Christ in them, knowing that even while they are strangers to us, they are not strangers to Him.
Will immigration solve this crisis, though? Of course it won’t. We know this is another temporary measure in the midst of the broken systems of this world.
Even though I believe every dollar spent on an open and regulated immigration policy is a better expenditure than any bomb or bullet is, I know there will still be threats to our freedom and security from all sorts of places.
If we can’t destroy the threat of terrorism with violence, and if we cannot close ourselves off from the risk of caring for strangers, then how is it possible to defeat terrorism?
More importantly, how do we immunize ourselves from the deadly consequences of terror?
We continue to hope, trust–and believe–in spite of our fears.
We accept our loss, understanding that only life brings an end to the cycle of death. We care for the plight of others when we are tempted to put our own concerns first.
We choose to fear not, even when we feel afraid.
But someone has to tell us this. We can’t simply make up our minds and grit our teeth–this has to be more than a self-help exercise. We must place our hope in something, or we’re just wishing. We must trust in someone. For some, it’s just the hope of a better world tomorrow than today. They decide to face their fears for the sake of someone else.
For me, though, it’s the comforting example of Jesus–who confronted death by walking toward it. Instead of listening to the disquieting terror of a world trapped in cycles of violence and self-preservation, He willingly let his enemies kill him.
He didn’t permit his followers to defend him. He said that wasn’t how his nation was going to work. Instead, He allowed the terror to rattle and moan while He remained silent. They misrepresented him, then they beat Him, and then they killed Him. And He didn’t even speak up for Himself.
What did he believe in?
What did he trust? Even if you don’t believe Jesus was God–this story begs you to question his motivation. What could possibly inspire him to face this kind of injustice? What would motivate this kind of counterintuitive sacrifice?
Jesus put his trust in the God he believed in–his Father–because he believed God would vindicate him. And this story claims that God did.
God resurrected him.
If we believe God has conquered death, we will no longer be afraid.
If Jesus rose again, and if we get our own resurrection, then we can trust God to make the world right!
Christians who resort to violence and self-preservation have simply lost faith in the resurrection. They’ve forgotten they believe in a God who came back from the dead! If Jesus has defeated hell and the grave, and if he has promised to restore the world, what is left for us to be afraid of? There is a reason we can be sheep in the midst of wolves. There is a reason why Jesus isn’t crazy when he tells us to fear not–His life guarantees our death is not the end!
Jesus will make Paris whole again. Jesus will heal Beruit. Both now, through us, and someday soon–through His inevitable return.
This is what it means to be a Christian: you choose to place your hope in the resurrection.
You might not believe in Jesus, and you might find all of this a bit preposterous. And it’s fair to think we’re crazy–here’s hoping you find faith in humanity some other way. Let’s work together on a better world anyway!
But if He is God, He will make this world right. At the end of everything, Jesus will not look at the horrors of the Holocaust and shrug His shoulders. He will make good on all of our loss, and all of our sacrifice. He will take our brokenness upon himself, and he will restore everything we’ve lost. He will reveal how He has reformed and healed the world.
This is our great hope for a world suffering under endless terror: Jesus makes all things new!
The choice to respond with grace and kindness when we want to react in crisis is the bravest decision we’ll ever get to make. Sure, we might not look like heroes. In fact, to those who have lost faith, we might just look like victims. But to those who still have hope, our suffering will tell a story of how the world can still be redeemed.
We will have to bleed a little more. There will be further losses.