The news can seem awash with story after story of terrorism and warfare but how can today’s Christians respond to the carnage in the spirit of Jesus’ teachings and other passages in the Bible? Rev Dr Peter Hobson explores how the church and its followers can respond to violence and terror.
In the years that have passed since the September 11 terrorist attacks, we have become suspicious of the “other”, we have become terrified of abandoned backpacks and have occasionally scapegoated refugees (especially from the Middle East). But of course what else is there? How are we to respond as Christians in an age of violence?
I would like to make some suggestions.
The first is this: as Christians, our response to violence is not a decision we are free to make of our own accord, it has already been made for us. Jesus does not ask his followers to adhere to some sort of pacifist mandate—he demands much more than that. It is not enough to say that Christians are people committed to non-violence. Christians are those among us fool-hardy enough to commit to the way of love. Jesus not only asks us to resist violence by turning the other cheek, he also commands us to love our enemies (Matt 5:38-48). In fact, we read in Luke’s gospel that Jesus asks God to forgive the very people who have crucified him (Luke 23:24).
The second is this: as Christians we are called to see the world as filled with love and grace, not fear and violence. When our news-feeds are filled with stories of terrorism and bloodshed, it can seem quite overwhelming. But when we gather together in communities of prayer and worship we remind ourselves that we belong to a different story—a story that does not seek power through oppression, but rather one that seeks humility and justice (Matthew 5:1-12).
The third is this: as Christians we have been invited into a mustard-seed conspiracy that cannot be contained, for the Kingdom of God is upon us (Mark 1:15). It is not our job to defeat terrorism—that is a burden too great to bear. Our job is to love God and to love our neighbour (Mark 12:30-31), to forgive without end (Matthew 18:21-22) and to proclaim Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18-19). Sometimes the response of the world will be hostile (Matthew 10:22), but we are called to be faithful to the end.
So, a faithful Christian response to acts of terror is to retaliate with love. We are called to pray for those who would do us harm and to offer forgiveness to those who have caused injury and sorrow. We are called to offer the world an alternative story—one where God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) and perfect love drives away all fear (1 John 4:18).
Rev Dr Peter Hobson