There are some things that we encounter in the world that are profoundly evil. Friday night, the world witnessed that evil in the attack on locations in Paris that resulted in 129 dead, 352 injured, and heartbreak beyond count. The slaughter of innocents in the name of fear is profoundly evil. Events like this leave us reeling, no response seems good enough and, for those who attempt to comfort the mourning, words ring hollow. How then do we respond to these acts of depravity and brokenness? How do we shine the light of Christ into such immense darkness?
First, we are silent. Words ring hollow and there is a reason we observe moments of silence in the wake of tragedy. There is a power in shared silence, in a space created for the chasm of grief. It is not an inactive or passive silence, this is an empathetic connection that speaks loudly, “we are here for you.” This silence is modeled with Job’s friends after he has lost his sons and daughters. These friends lose their power of comfort as soon as they begin to speak. The power of silence cannot be overestimated. We use words to calm our own hearts, to ease our conscience, to quantify the unquantifiable, but there is an engagement with reality in silence that goes farther than any verbal formulation. That is why we are told to, “Be still and know that I am God.”
After silence, we should weep with those who weep. The Biblical practice of lamentation is an all too unfamiliar spiritual expression among Western Christians. “How long O Lord!” is the chief refrain of the lament. How long will you be silent, how long will you allow the wicked to flourish, how long until we are saved out the depths of the pit? We should cry out against injustice, we should join our voices to the mourning in our cries for healing and restoration. The Psalms are full of prayers prayed from the depth of despair and anger. We should not shy away from our feelings and we should not throw our feelings into accusation. Encounter God in those places through lament. There are probably many people who feel forsaken in the wake of tragedy: Jesus’s own lament began, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” The miracle of lament is found in the power of putting our everything before God; through that process we often find the strength to praise Him in the midst of our doubt and suffering.
As we lament and call out against the wickedness of these acts, we are called to a place that can only be reached by God’s grace. We are called to pray for those who persecute us. In the midst of the lament against injustice, we call out for the redemption of the attackers and not just the victims. We call out blessings on those who would curse us. Martin Luther King phrases it beautifully, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must love our enemies, we must pray for them. This is not an abstract love with the support of forced prayers through gritted teeth. This is a love that would, and did, die for those who persecuted Him. This is not an easy thing (the praying for our enemies often precedes the loving of them), but through the power of the Holy Spirit we can change our vengeful hearts. The journey to Christ is long, but it ends in love’s embrace of us and our loving embrace of all men.
Finally, the love that is shown through the sharing of suffering in silence, the lamentation against injustice, and the prayers for our enemies and brethren alike will cast out fear. The attack on Paris was a “terror” attack and the purpose was to sew fear. The true enemy (i.e. the principalities and powers of this world) strives daily to cause fear and fear causes the most evil in our world. Fear of “other,” fear of insignificance, fear of weakness, fear of pain are all apart of the motivation for terrible evil. My uncle, Fr. Kenneth Tanner, writes, “The Christian is one who embraces suffering and is at war with fear.” Through our silence, lamentation, and prayer we embrace suffering and wage war with fear. The power of the image above is that people came together and in their love for their city, countrymen, fellow man, they rose up to defy terror in unity. It should never be easy to respond to profound evil, but we must respond. I hope these thoughts above can help you to respond to this terrible tragedy.