Writing less than 48 hours after the horrific events in Paris, I’m none the wiser as to how to respond. I think of the gig where so many were massacred and think: that could have been a gig that I attended; I look at those murdered in restaurants and think: that could have been my wife and me enjoying a meal. I look at the events and think: no matter how tight our security, no matter how effective our intelligence and policing, there’s little to stop this happening in this country, or even in this town. The hatred shown by Islamic State towards people enjoying everyday lives is a force that is difficult to stop.
Yet love is a much greater force. The apostle John writes: “there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” Love prompted Parisians to open their doors, shielding tourists from further attacks. Love prompted one Bataclan survivor to lay on top of his girlfriend as a human shield while they both played dead. Love puts aside religious differences and refrains from political point-scoring; love stands united with those who are grieving, and those who seek to rebuild, not destroy. And love determines our response. Without love, our response is one of fear.
So, to respond: firstly, it’s okay to grieve and lament. King David wrote, “My tears have been my food day and night.” David was a powerful, God-fearing man, yet he wept for his personal plight as well as that of his nation. Whilst God doesn’t want us permanently consumed with sadness, He knows us and longs to comfort us in our weeping.
Secondly, we show compassion, regardless of difference. After a gunman held people hostage in a Sydney café last year, thousands of Australians offered to ride buses and take walks with Muslims who feared an Islamophobic backlash. Afterwards, resident Salim Kassan wrote on Twitter: “being Muslim in the wake of a terrorist attack can be horrifying. Thank you, Australia.”
And finally, we show love. Not just to those directly affected, but to each other. On Saturday morning, I sat with my wife and two children; we held hands and prayed. I can’t protect them from evil but I can show them love for as many days as I have. Paul writes in Corinthians, “love always perseveres.” We will continue to witness acts of hatred, but love is always stronger.