Posts tagged ‘Terror’

The Violence That Never Seems To Stop

sam-rios-8XZlMCMlpX0-unsplash.jpg

Credit: Sam Rios on Unsplash

In my blog last week, I reflected on some of the events that shaped 2019, and I noted that there have been “accelerating attacks on houses of worship.” Unfortunately, the end of 2019 demonstrated just how true that was.

First, it was an attack on a Hanukkah celebration at a home in a New York City suburb. A knife wielding assailant burst into the home, wounding five people while the people inside scrambled to flee out the back door. Then, the very next morning, a gunman opened fire at a Church of Christ congregation outside of Fort Worth. Two people were killed. Many more probably would have been lost, but the gunman was taken down by the church’s security team.

It’s difficult to see these kinds of attacks at these kinds of gatherings. Celebrations and congregations are not meant to be battlefields. They are meant to be arenas of respite and rejoicing.

On the one hand, none of this surprising. As a Christian, I follow a man who warned of “wars and rumors of wars” (Mark 13:7). Those who are Jewish know well Daniel’s prophetic announcement to King Xerxes: “War will continue until the end” (Daniel 9:26). Though both of these prophecies, in their contexts, point to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70, they can be applied throughout history. People are violent. And the human inclination toward violence shows no signs of abating.

While I am heartbroken over these stories, I am also grateful that, in both of these instances, many of these people were able to escape their attackers, or, as in the case of this most recent church shooting, the security team was able to stop the attacker. Sadly, however, we will not be able to end these types of attacks altogether. Too many stories of too much violence have demonstrated otherwise. In truth, despite our best efforts at safety, only God Himself can truly end violence. As God explained to His people of old, when God returns on history’s final day, “no longer will violence be heard” (Isaiah 60:18).

Until that day, I pray for victims and their families, I pray against further attacks, I give thanks for those who protect others while risking themselves, and I look forward to the day when my hope for peace will become the sight of peace. Even when it looks otherwise, I still firmly believe that guns and knives are no match for God.

January 6, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Turkey, Germany, Power, and Love

berlin-christmas-attack

Terror doesn’t take a break for Christmas.

This past Monday was a tragic day in Europe.  In Istanbul, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, who shouted “Allahu akbar!” and “Do not forget Aleppo!” in an apparent protestation of Russia’s recent bombings of the embattled city.  Then, later the same day, in Berlin, a Tunisian man, Anism Amri, is suspected to have driven a semi-truck into an open-air Christmas market, killing twelve and injuring scores of others.  ISIS has claimed involvement in the attack.

In one way, this is all too predictable.  Terrorists are trained and indoctrinated to be callous to human carnage.  They seek power through the exercise of brute force.  ISIS has made no secret of its goal of a global caliphate and, even if it knows it can never realize such a theocratic dream, it will lash out at every opportunity possible to, at the very least, wield power through fear.  Terror attacks will continue.

It is difficult to imagine how Christmas must have felt for the loved ones of those lost in these attacks.  A day that celebrates history’s greatest birth is now tinged by the stain of death.  And yet, Christmas is precisely the message this world needs in the face of these continuing attacks.  For Christmas reminds us how such attacks will ultimately be overcome.

On the one hand, we should be thankful that responsible governments work tirelessly both to prevent these attacks and to bring attackers to justice. On the other hand, we should never forget that such efforts, no matter how noble they may be, are ultimately stop gap measures.  The defeat of terrorism lies not in the power of human governments, but in the meekness and weakness of a babe in Bethlehem.  N.T. Wright explains why this is the case when he writes:

You cannot defeat the usual sort of power by the usual sort of means.  If one force overcomes another, it is still “force” that wins.  Rather, at the heart of the victory of God over all the powers of the world there lies self-giving love.[1]

Terrorism is rooted in a lust for power.  But a lust for power cannot, in an ultimate sense, be exorcised by a use, even if it’s an appropriate use, of power.  A lust for power can only be defeated by, to use N.T. Wright’s phrase, “self-giving love.”  And this is where Christmas comes in.  For it is self-giving love that moves God to give His one and only Son to the world as a babe at Christmas.  It is self-giving love that moves God’s one and only Son to give His life for the world on a cross.  And through the meekness and weakness of the manger and cross, victory is won over every sinful use of power.  To use the words of the apostle Paul: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Christ made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

In the 1980s, one of TV’s most popular shows was MacGyver.  At the heart of the show’s popularity was the fact that no matter how perilous a situation he may have found himself in, MacGyver always seemed to find a way out of it using the simplest of means. A pair of binoculars that deflected a laser beam.  A paper clip that shorted out a missile on its countdown to launch.  MacGyver’s strange and unexpected hacks to disarm every danger imaginable have become so eponymous with MacGyver himself that his name has turned into a verb.  If there is a problem that calls for a creative solution, you can “MacGyver” it!

In a world that knows only the use of force in the face of force, Jesus pulls a MacGyver.  He solves the problem of the abuse of power in a way no one expected.  He uses a manger to enter the brokenness of our world.  And He uses a cross to overcome the sin of our world.  In this way, a Turkish assassin is no match for the manger.  And a Tunisian terrorist is no match for the cross.  Why?  Because though the former things may engender fear, the latter things hold forth hope.  And hope will win the day.

________________________

[1] N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (New York:  HarperOne, 2016), 222.

December 26, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The ISIS Atrocities You Probably Haven’t Heard About

isis

ISIS must be stopped.  It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion when story after story of the group’s atrocities continue to pour in.  In a horrifying iteration of violence that has become ISIS’s trademark, a woman named Alice Assaf recounted how when jihadis marched into her town over two years ago, they killed her son for refusing to disown his faith in Christ, murdered at least six men by baking them alive in ovens, and killed 250 children by massacring them in dough kneading machines at a local bakery.

Are you sick to your stomach yet?  I certainly was when I read the news story.

But too many people have not read this story.  Stories about emails and Tweets among the two major party presidential candidates have relegated ISIS’s atrocities to the background.  Certainly, this year’s presidential election with all of its crazy ups and downs is important.  But when many people lose track of, or, I fear, even lose interest in ISIS’s activities, something has gone tragically wrong.

Just last August, it was being argued that we should ignore, or at least downplay, ISIS’s crimes.  During an official visit to Bangladesh, Secretary of State John Kerry explained:

No country is immune from terrorism. It’s easy to terrorize. Government and law enforcement have to be correct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But if you decide one day you’re going to be a terrorist and you’re willing to kill yourself, you can go out and kill some people. You can make some noise. Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it quite as much. People wouldn’t know what’s going on.[1]

The Secretary of State was arguing that by featuring terror attacks in the headlines, we are only emboldening the terrorists by giving them what they want – free publicity, which leads to more recruiting power, which leads to more killings.  As it turns out, however, even as ISIS’s publicity retreats, the atrocities continue.  A lack of headlines does not seem to temper ISIS’s bloodlust.

We must understand that what drives ISIS, ultimately, is not a desire for fame, for land, or for money.  A theology is what drives the group.  I am sympathetic to Muslim theologians who argue that ISIS’s theology is not Islamic or representative of Allah in any meaningful or traditional sense, but even if this is the case, ISIS nevertheless has a theology.  It has a conception of a god who calls and commands its adherents to do the things they do.  And the things this god calls and commands them to do are horrifying.  But they will continue to do them, whether or not the world is watching, because they think their god is watching – and is pleased with them.

This is why we must continue to pay attention.  We must continue to pay attention because we serve and worship a God who does not order the execution of the oppressed, but cares about the plight of the oppressed and invites us to do the same.  We must continue to pay attention because we serve and worship a God who hates injustice and promises to confront it and conquer it with righteousness.

Perhaps what was most shocking to me about the article I read outlining ISIS’s bakery massacre was the headlines in the “Related Stories” column of the website I was visiting:

All of these articles carried datelines of August and September of this year.  ISIS is still on the loose, even if we don’t see it or know it.  Perhaps it’s time to see and notice once again.  After all, the blood of those it has slaughtered is crying out.

Are we listening?

____________________________

[1] Jeryl Bier, “Kerry in Bangladesh: Media Should Cover Terrorism Less,” The Weekly Standard (8.29.2016).

October 31, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Election Day Fear

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Credit: CNN

Last week, I was driving back to my office after teaching a Bible study at a local business.  I happened to be listening to a radio talk show when a lady called who took my breath away.  She was nearly in tears.  She had just seen a movie forecasting what would happen if a particular candidate was elected President of the United States.  She told the talk show host:

I am scared to death.  I don’t sleep. I’m an absolute basket case. I want what’s good for my children, my grandchildren, my family.  It’s all going down the tubes because, after watching that movie last night, all I saw was what’s coming down, what’s next, what they have planned.

Wow.  What palpable fear.  What genuine terror.  What a heartbreaking phone call.  Fear can wreak a lot of havoc in a person’s heart and life.

I know this caller is not the only one frightened right now.  It seems as though every time a presidential election comes around, people’s fear becomes more and more acute.  So here’s a gentle reminder:  fear is not helpful.  There is a reason why the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  There is a reason Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Fear is like an infection.  Left unchecked, it can destroy people spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.  So if you’re tempted toward fear, especially as it pertains to this upcoming election, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Fear tends toward hyperbole.

Every four years, I hear the same refrain from candidates and political pundits alike: “This is the most important election of our lifetimes.”  Of course it is.  That is, until the next election comes along.  This claim, of course, is usually accompanied with dire predictions of what will happen if the wrong candidates get into political office.  Of course factually, this claim cannot stand up under scrutiny because logically, this claim cannot be true more than once in a generation.  And yet, it is assumed as true every four years.  How can we believe a claim that is so logically ludicrous?  Because we are afraid.  And fear tends to look toward a certain point in time, such as an election, and wonder with worry:  Is this the moment that will serve as the linchpin for the rest of history?  Is this the moment when everything changes?

Christians have a confident answer to these questions.  And our answer is “no.”  We know that history’s linchpin moment has already come with Christ.  No moment or election can even come close to comparing with Him.  Indeed, I find it interesting that the primary way we know about political figures from the first century such as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, and even Caesar Augustus is through Scripture.  But all of these men serve as paltry footnotes to the story of Jesus.  It turns out they weren’t as important as everyone thought they were back then.  Perhaps our leaders won’t be as important as we think they are right now.  So why are we afraid?

Fear fosters self-righteousness.

It was Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote:

Political controversies are always conflicts between sinners and not between righteous men and sinners.  It ought to mitigate the self-righteousness which is an inevitable concomitant of all human conflict.[1]

Niebuhr notes that, in politics, no party is completely right because no person is completely righteous.  So we ought to be humbly honest about our sins rather arrogantly defensive in a smug self-righteousness.  The problem with fear is that it tempts us to overlook the sins of ourselves and our party while gleefully pointing out the sins of the other party. Or worse, fear will justify the sins of our party by pointing to the purportedly worse sins of the other party.  In this way, fear surrenders moral credibility because it puts itself through all sorts of intellectual and ethical contortions to make that which is self-evidentially wrong look right.  This, by definition, is self-righteousness – something that Jesus unequivocally condemns.  If Jesus condemns it, we should stay away from it.  So do not let fear lead you into it. 

Fear clouds decision-making.

Psychologists have long noted that fear is a great motivator.  But fear has a funny way of impairing judgment.  Just ask any deer who has been paralyzed by the two big lights that are barrelling toward him at a rapid rate of speed.  Fear may promise to lead to rescue and safety, but, in the end, it leads to death.  So why would we settle for election cycles that are continuously driven by fear?

Decisions made out of fear tend to be Consequentialist in nature.  Consequentialism is a theory of ethics that says an act is good if it brings the least harm to the most people.  The problem with Consequentialism, however, is twofold.  First, because no one can fully predict the future, decisions based on future predictions, including the future predictions fueled by fear, usually have unintended – and often undesirable – consequences.  Second, Consequentialism tends to degenerate into deep sinfulness as people become willing to excuse increasingly terrible acts to achieve some desired result.  Consequentialism, then, may go after one good thing, but, in the process, it surrenders to and sanctions a bunch of bad things.

Decisions are much better made on principle rather than out of fear.  Decisions made on principle allow the one making them to look at all facets of a decision rather than just an end result.  They also place a high value on integrity rather than wantonly sacrificing that which is right for that which is expedient.  Decisions made on principle are, ultimately, better decisions.

I know that eschewing fearfulness is much easier said than done.  But fear must be fought – especially as it pertains to this upcoming election.  Fear about this election and about the future solves nothing.  It only manages to make the present miserable.  So take heart and remember:

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?  (Psalm 118:6)

Mortals cannot do nearly as much as we sometimes think they can, even if one of them becomes President of the United States.  Things really will be okay, even if sinfulness does its worst.

Do not be afraid.

______________________

[1] Reinhold Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr:  Theologian of Public Life, Larry Rasmussen, ed. (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1991), 248.

October 17, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Tackling Terrorism

Credit:  Christian Science Monitor

Credit: Christian Science Monitor

First it was a chocolatier in Australia. Then it was a school in Pakistan. Terrorist attacks have been headline news this past week.

When an Iranian refugee turned self-styled Muslim cleric named Man Haron Monis barricaded his way inside a Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney, it took a police raid 16 hours after the siege began to free the hostages trapped inside. Three people, including Monis, died.

When Taliban fighters stormed a crowded school in Peshawar, they managed to kill 145 people over eight hours, 132 of them schoolchildren. Stories are emerging of kids being lined up and shot, or shot as they cowered under their desks. NBC News reports that one teacher was doused with gasoline and burned alive while students were forced to watch.

Once again, we are left grappling with grieving families and terrorized communities. And even though, in both of these instances, the attacks happened across time zones, countries, oceans, and continents, at least a little of the fear there nevertheless comes home to roost here.

This, of course, is exactly what these terrorist organizations want. CNN reports that ISIS is calling on their allies and sympathizers to carry out so called “lone-wolf” attacks in their homelands. They attacks do not have to be big, expensive, and well organized – as were the attacks of 9/11 – they simply have to be frightening. Fear, these criminals know, is a powerful thing.

Certainly, national governments need to put into place policies to try to prevent these attacks. Certainly, law enforcement officials need to have plans in place to deal swiftly and forcefully with any terrorist attack. And certainly, surveillance of and intelligence from terrorist groups and lone wolf sympathizers is needed so governments can know and foil terrorist plots them before they have a chance to carry them out.

But what about us? What about people who are normal, everyday citizens like us who are increasingly frightened that we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be mown down by a terrorist attack?

The fact of the matter is this: we cannot control what will happen to us in the future. We do not know whether or not we will fall victim to a terrorist attack. But we can confront and control the fear we feel right now.

The apostle John gives us a simple strategy for dealing with fear: “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). When a mad man or a despicable organization terrifies people with a dastardly deed, what is the best way for the rest of us to respond? By loving those people.   Spontaneous tributes to the fallen that have arisen in the wake of these attacks indicate that, already, these communities are banding together to love each other through fear.

As of now, I have not seen any relief efforts that we in the states can participate in to express our love and support to the families of these victims in Australia and Pakistan. But with Christmas fast approaching, my guess is, you know at least one person who, though they may not be terrorized, is fearful in some way. Perhaps you know someone who has lost their spouse this year and is worried about how they will deal with their first Christmas apart from their loved one. Perhaps you know someone who is terminally ill and is facing the very real and understandable fears that come with knowingly being at the end of life. John’s words ring just as true in these cases as they do in cases of terror: “Perfect love drives out fear.”

So love who you can love. For in doing so, you bring peace where there is fear. And in a season when we remember some angels who announced “peace on earth to men” (Luke 2:14) thanks to a “God [who] so loved the world [that] He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16) so we could “not be afraid” (John 14:27), this is most definitely an appropriate mission.

December 22, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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