I was awake with my twenty-month old daughter at 3am this morning, and turning on the television I was faced with the utter horror of the unfolding scene in Paris. One of the challenges of being called to lead a community of followers of Jesus, is that at times like this, there is an expectation from both within and outside that community, that you will have an answer. Oh, if only it were that simple; how can you answer such barbarity? And yet, having spent some time reflecting this morning on the past twelve hours, a few simple things seem even more important than they did yesterday, and so it is these that I humbly offer.
The early followers of Jesus (well before the term ‘Christian’ or the Christian religion was born) were known as people of ‘The Way’. They were known as people who dedicated their lives to the Jesus who said of himself, “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life” John 14:6. The way of life that they chose was ‘His Way – not our way’. I was deeply saddened yesterday at hearing the rhetoric that surrounded the execution of ‘Jhiadi John’; a young Englishman who committed the most gruesome, barbaric and completely un-justifiable crimes of hatred. I remember standing next to the mass grave of hundreds of Bosnian Muslims, weeping as I saw the tiny arm of a child sticking out from the pile of earth, in the mid 1990’s during my military service there; killed in the name of a Christian Religion. I can picture the hatred on the face of a young Catholic boy as he hurled abuse at me on the streets on Northern Ireland, and can I remember the barbaric talk in the RUC canteen as nominal Protestants spoke of nominal Catholics as if they were sub-human. All of the above born out of hatred, born of the prince of this world, regardless of the ‘name’ it was done in.
Now, of course we need robust ‘homeland security’. I have absolutely no problem with the Police and Security Forces reading my emails, as they will find them, in the main, very boring. It is quite right that we allow the government to pursue a policy that keeps us and our children safe from all acts of violence. We should, I believe, ensure that schools, universities and all such establishments are places where violent radicalization of all types is prevented. That is the responsibility of government.
But what is our responsibility as people of The Way? A few months ago I bumped into a Muslim leader who Nicole and I had befriended a few years ago in the area where we lived. We had spent a good deal of time in those days chatting with him about how the community around us could look. We had done a children’s group in the local hall, overtly Christian, that had been attended by 100% Muslim children and then very suddenly had closed down, as the children were told by the local Mosque to no longer to come. We had left the area, and three years later, on our return to live there he simply said, ‘it is all much worse now, since you left. You were the glue that held it all together’. That’s the Jesus in us, by the way, the one that holds all things together Col 1:17. I am not talking about proposing more ‘inter-faith’ dialogue, mutual understanding or respect (although that’s a nice thing and all that). I am always struck that, when Paul insisted Timothy become circumcised, it was a painful reminder of how far Paul expected him to go in order to ‘win a few’. Acts 16:2, 1 Cor 9: 22. His way is always going to be painful and require us change inwardly; ours is always a spiritual circumcision of the flesh as we engage with these hard questions. I don’t see much cost in inter-faith visits to be honest, but I do see cost in openly tackling the ‘elephant in the room’ of what our responsibility, as people of ‘The Way’ is in all of this. The only action that will prevail here is one born of love, but that love will surely cost us and bring us to that place of crossing the wall of fear that is presented to us.
My encouragement in this time of real pain is simply this. The Way of Jesus is not one of agreeing with hatred, as hatred comes only from one place. His Way is one of engagement through sacrificial love and the open declaration of The Truth and The Life that is also Him. State led & sanctioned assassination is the business of the State; love is the business of the Kingdom of God. However we are wrestling with all of this, let’s make sure that, like Jacob, it is God with whom we wrestle, not each other, as we end up holding onto him, even though it may give us a limp. The Kingdom is righteousness (these atrocities give us no right to sin in response), peace (and that is the presence of His person, not just an absence of conflict) and the joy in the Holy Spirit that allows us to engage from that place of being fully connected with love Himself. If we allow ourselves to respond in the same spirit that has brought this atrocity (one of fear), we will only see fruit that grows from the same place. Let us gather in love, pray for those that have been persecuted and the families that have been torn apart, and pray for our enemies, wherever they may be, that they find Him who is capable of doing more than we could ever ask or imagine.