Reflections on the Paris Terrorist Attacks
Many of us have been watching the events unfold in Paris over the past week. In many ways we are reminded of the feelings and emotions we experienced after 9/11 fourteen years ago. Though not nearly as many died this past week as did on that fateful day in 2001, the signs that the war on terrorism is taking an even more dangerous turn has the world troubled. Today I want to share some reflections on what has happened, and what is happening in the world. For those who might not know, I am in Paris about three times a year connecting with various Christian workers. So, for me, these events have been especially disturbing.
First, I want to share with those who live in Paris, and throughout France, my heartfelt sense of support to all of you. France has responded in a very brave, noble, and compassionate way to this crisis. France is a very diverse nation, yet you have unified as a country in a very remarkable way. I hope and pray that you as a nation can now move forward to face the challenges ahead. Most important, I encourage the saints around the world to pray for the Christians in France that they would be given the discernment and the boldness to respond with true wisdom to the challenges and the opportunities that are in front of them.
The free world today needs much wisdom to respond to this growing threat of radical Islamism that is growing stronger and more violent all the time. As Christians we must pray for the leaders of all these governments. There are no easy solutions. Governments are ordained by God to respond to evil and injustice, and to protect the basic rights of mankind. I pray that the leaders of France, the United States, and other free nations will have great insight to respond correctly. Looking back, I have doubts about how we responded to 9/11, especially in the aftermath of toppling the corrupt governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m not sure if we did everything right…..not that I can suggest what could have been done differently. The issues involved are very complex. For this reason, we must pray for our leaders.
While I do not pretend to know how best for governments to respond, I do see more clearly how we as Christians should be responding, and how the Church must respond. If there has ever been a day when the harvest is ripe, and there are endless opportunities to share the message of hope and love that is only found in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is today. Our focus must be on what we as Christians can and should be doing. The reality most of us don’t want to hear is that governments, with all their human wisdom, are limited in what they can do. At best, their efforts will be too little, and they will never be able to address the root causes of our world’s problems. While I concur that the role of government is to confront evil and injustice, I realize that they will never bring about the results we are really looking for. Too often our focus as Christians is on what “they” should be doing, rather than what “we” must be doing. Are we are deceiving ourselves?
Let me explain. I often find myself reading about the lives of those drawn into such evil terrorism. I ask God to help me to see their stories from His perspective. For example, let’s talk about the life of Amedy Coulibaly. He is one of the terrorists involved in last week’s tragedy in Paris, being killed after he had killed four innocent Jews in a local kosher grocery story. He was 32 years old. He had his first encounter with the police at age 15. He was a smart kid but always drawn into the wrong crowd. People who knew him say he was always looking for friends. He had one friend, but this friend was killed when Amedy was still a teen. He later remarked he never had any true friends after that. While serving time in prison, he looked for a mentor or father figure, but could only find a radical Islamist. That didn’t last long either. Eight years ago, after being released from prison, he struck up a romance with a young woman, now known to the world as the female accomplice to last week’s attacks. They were not practicing Muslims at that time. They both were looking for something but couldn’t seem to find what they were looking for. They began to drift toward Islam. It was about this time that Amedy finally found the mentor and spiritual guide he was looking for. The only problem was that this man was a recruiter for Al Qaeda. Sadly, such recruiters look for young men and women who are disillusioned with life and are looking for something meaningful to give some purpose to their existence. The couple later traveled to Mecca for a spiritual pilgrimage. Those who knew the couple said that while she seemed to be touched while there, he was not. We know, of course, that only Jesus can satisfy their spiritual longing. Some reports suggest that Amedy wrestled with suicidal thoughts toward the end of his life. Obviously, I have left out parts of this story, and certainly I am not blaming his horrible actions on others. But I do believe his story, like those of most troubled youths, should serve as exhortation to Christians to reach out to the lost and hopeless of this world. There are millions of young adults around the world looking for mentors, purpose in life, and spiritual reality! Are we who are Christians too consumed with our own lives that we do not see what is happening around us?
We have been commissioned with the gospel of love. May we be shaken out of our complacency and begin looking for ways to share the love of God with others. Just last year, while in Paris in the home of Mouloud and Gerda, our dear friends, Mouloud and I had the opportunity to share for over an hour with a young troubled man. Yes, he was Arab. Yes, he was Muslim. Yes, his life was falling apart. And, yes, he was very interested as we shared the gospel with him. He did not make a commitment to follow Christ at that point, but he knows now about how Jesus can give him eternal life and freedom from sin. The sad reality is that there are tens of thousands of such young men just in the Paris area. May the gospel be proclaimed to the lost of this world!
We have been entrusted with the Truth. It is only the Truth that can set a person free. We have been entrusted with the love of God that has filled our hearts. The weapons needed in this “war against terrorism” are the Gospel, the love of Christ, and the name of Jesus in which we can do battle in prayer. I am already hearing Christians speak or write things that sound more like hate and fear as a response to the increasing threats of radical Islam. Rather, we must embrace love (God’s love) and boldness to proclaim the Gospel. We are not to fear. Our Lord told His followers to love their enemies. He knew that love is stronger than hate. We are told to “never pay back evil with evil to anyone” (Romans 12:17). In this age of growing turmoil, we must see the growing opportunities for the Kingdom of God. As followers of Jesus, we must not give in to fear, hate, or even complacency.
Finally, I want to encourage everyone to consider giving to the laborers working in Paris. If you don’t know of any you can get behind with prayer and financial support, I know of many strong Christian workers in the Paris area who are limited in what they can do because of a lack of finances. We must pray diligently for these workers in this season of opportunity!
There is one man in Paris who is from North Africa whom I’ve known for some time. He left Islam to become a follower of Jesus. He now serves the Lord Jesus, and has a gift of evangelism. He has a burden for young Muslim men. He and his family have already bought airline tickets to spend almost two months with us in Frisco this summer. May the Lord show us how to equip and encourage him, and others as well, to be bold in their witness for the Lord Jesus Christ!