Although details remain somewhat sketchy regarding the attack in Nice, France, it seems likely that this has been yet another Islamist terror attack, this time in a manner distinct from previous attacks. The most notable feature of this act is the use of a heavy vehicle and, from what we are told, grenades and firearms.
As depressing as these horrendous attacks are, the commentary that follows is generally not uplifting either. In our information saturated times, people are quick to jump onto social media and the comboxes offering condemnations and radical solutions.
People emote rapidly in 2016. In fact, people generally feel through issues rather than think through them. And so we are witness to a welter of anger, sorrow, confusion, and a desire for a target to blame.
We also get to see how terror has become a new normal among many people. Within hours of the attacks, a group of Americans were joking on a major news site about the need for “truck licensing” – this being a reference to gun control laws which are inevitably discussed after attacks that use firearms. And so terror on this scale is now no more than a blip for many people. Its impact is gone. Sad to say, terrorists in the future are probably going to need to dream up bigger demonstrations than merely 80 dead people to drill through the fuzzy conditioning that is now setting in.
During such situations where horror and superficiality abide side-by-side, Christians must always seek to live as a different breed of people. St. Paul reminds the Church that Christians are not to function on the same basis as the world. Christians should not think with the same mental tools – the ideologies, politics, and patterns – as unbelievers, and therefore should not emote or behave like unbelievers. Christians are “children of the day”, not of the night, and therefore see things from a perspective of clarity and purpose denied to the unbelieving world.
How should we process such terror?
The Lord Jesus Christ was told one time (Luke 13:1-3) about a terrible massacre orchestrated by the Romans in which Jews had been slaughtered while offering sacrifices in the temple. Their deaths must have been especially brutal, because it seems that their blood had mixed with that of their offerings on the altar. It is not inconceivable that their bodies had been literally thrown onto the altar to burn together with their sacrifice.
It was a horrific act of barbarity. One could even call it state-sponsored terror, since these executions probably took place outside of the rule of law and were probably calculated to intimidate the local Jewish population.
The Lord’s response is instructive:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
It is easy to condemn the perpetrators of horrific violence and to demand that they be brought to book. In fact, that was probably the reason this particular group of Jews had passed the news to the Lord. Was he going to condemn the Romans? Was he going to promise that the wrath of God would surely fall upon the head of the Procurator, Pontius Pilate? Would he promise instantaneous heaven to the deceased?
Actually, no. Although God’s punishment for evil men is certain (something that Jesus taught frequently), the Lord’s focus was upon the spiritual condition of the living. It is easy to condemn outrageous barbarity when it breaks out in the world. It is easy to imagine – as some people have – that the French have been a more wicked nation than others, or that the people participating in the parade were probably “godless atheists”. It is easy, in the midst of horror happening to other people to thereby fail to see that we too are in need of constant repentance and forgiveness, and we too have no idea when or how our life will come to a close. “The end of all things is near“, warned St. Peter. And indeed it is, for each person individually, if not for the world.
The question that hangs in the air, therefore, is not why do atrocities happen to “good” people. But why, on a planet full of rebellious, disobedient, sinful men and women, has God’s wrath – a cosmic truck full of cosmic grenades, so to speak – not landed upon the whole human race? For all are deserving of God’s wrath.
When encountering terrorist attacks, therefore, our first instinct should be toward greater repentance and greater zeal to do what is right in the sight of God.
2. Avoid radical ideological “solutions” – see a Sovereign God at work
It is too easy to jump on an ideological bandwagon and imagine that sharp, speedy, radical action will solve the problem of evil human hearts. “Ban Muslim immigration”, for instance, is a common refrain. People talk of rolling back the religious freedoms that also safeguard the Church, foolishly imagining that secular governments empowered to tackle Muslims will never, one day, come for us.
Muslim immigration brings into deeply secular countries – who have for several generations tried to shrug off God and live in defiance to his law – a new dynamic that secularism cannot cope with. It is shaking up the political and social certainties that many people arrogantly feel have been settled. It is putting a dent into political correctness, and “safe spaces”, and multicultural radicalism, and even knocking holes in anti-Christian sentiment. Trying to build a new, hedonistic and materialistic society without any reference to God and without any basic moral compass, is being seen for what it is: an increasingly brittle structure that cannot endure reality from the outside.
Secular philosophy cannot function in the face of another culture that comes with theistic certainties and an aggressive policing of them. Same sex marriage, advocates, for instance, have primarily gone after Christian cake shop owners, but so far, there have been very few (if any) cases of them tackling Muslim cake shop owners who also refuse to make wedding cakes for homosexual people. Why? Because Muslims are an identity group that must be honoured by secularists, yet that same group often holds views that are inimical to feminism, multiculturalism, and the sexual revolution. Most Muslims repudiate the whole liberal, secular package. In fact, Muslim values and identity logically create a tension in secularism that is not resolvable. For, on one hand, secularism must continue to allow Muslim immigration, yet on the other hand those very immigrants carry with them beliefs that are opposed to secularism on nearly every single possible level.
Gasp! That’s dreadful! Surely, as good Christians, we must salvage our secular states who have done so much to eliminate God and his Son from national discourse? God forbid. We owe a godless state no more than the first Christians owed a pagan one: payment of our taxes, obedience and respect to secular rulers insofar as the realm of society is concerned – the Church is never to be in the business of leading a revolution – but at the same time, we are under no obligation to protect that which is visibly rotting away. Thus, these social changes should be viewed as good news for people who fear that liberalism of morals, politics, institutions and social beliefs will continue forever.
(Obviously, terror attacks are not committed by the majority of these immigrants, and therefore we should not paint them all as potential terrorists.)
As immigration continues, and as the Church has largely failed in her mission to go to “them”, we are in the blessed condition of having “them” come to us. And Muslims are far more interested in Christianity than secularists are, hence the substantial conversion rates witnessed in Europe.
So it is not all bad, and God is in control.