The recent attacks in Paris have again got Christians talking about an appropriate response to the separate, yet related matters of terrorism/extremism, Islam as a religion and Muslims as people and neighbours. Over the next few weeks, I plan to publish several posts that interact with these issues. I originally published the first two parts of this series of posts 11 months ago, immediately following the “Sydney Siege”, on the website of the church I was co-pastoring. I thought it might be beneficial to revisit some of these themes in light of what’s been happening in Paris and around the world since that event…
While the outcome of the crisis that ended at Martin Place in Sydney yesterday could have undoubtedly been much worse than it was – it marks the day that the extremist violence of the kind we’ve witnessed so much around the world since September 11, 2001 has finally violated the sacredness of human life and public safety on Australian soil. [Likewise Paris has reminded us once again how destructive these attacks can be].
It also serves as a clear and sharp reminder to us all that we are at war.
Around 9/11, I heard people talk ignorantly of waging “a war against Muslims.” Rest assured, that’s not what I’m talking about. God forbid that we should ever be involved in or condone an armed conflict or persecution against any general population of a particular religion. It’s critical that we heed the calls to show kindness and support to our Muslim neighbours during this sensitive time and denounce any show of violence or hatred towards them.
But it’s also critical that we recognise that we are nonetheless involved in a war and that maybe we’re more involved than we’d like to be.
One one level, Australia [along with France and other Western nations] is effectively engaged in warfare against a pernicious militant group known as ISIS or Islamic State. While the actions of Man Haron Monis did not represent the sentiments and intentions of the mainstream Islamic community in Australia [likewise regarding the actions of the terrorists in France], they seem to have had a lot to do with the conflict against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
While the exact motives behind the attack are not currently known, it is clear that Monis wished to identify himself and his actions with ISIS and thus it is fairly safe to conclude that part of the message he wished to send our nation and the world was ISIS-related. The attack happened in the context of our government’s decision to send military assistance to those in Iraq who are resisting the brutal advances of this atrocious group that slaughters those who do not agree with its extreme interpretations of Islamic religion.
But for Christians, this tragic event is a reminder of the war you and I are caught up in every day of our lives in this world: the spiritual battle being waged amongst humanity in unseen realms without pause. Our struggle, we’re told, is not against the visible, human perpetrators of conflict, hatred and violence but against the invisible influences that drive and enable much of the wickedness we see in the world. “…against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12b). Our weapons are never the physical blades and bullets used to destroy human bodies but are spiritual weapons, for a spiritual war (see 2 Cor 10:4-5, 2 Cor 6:7, Eph 6:13-18) – not for harming people but for attacking the very things that harm their souls.
What happened in Sydney [and now in Paris] was driven by spiritual forces of evil. It robbed people of their lives and families of their loved ones. It disturbed public order and spread fear through the community. It has incited more extremism – providing fertile ground for anti-Islamic sentiments and copycat or retaliatory attacks by radicalised people in the community. All of this is evil and the work of our true enemy the devil.
So how do we respond to events such as this, as those who are aware of our involvement in a cosmic struggle between spiritual forces of good and evil that is affecting the lives of every single human being in our society?
The most important thing we can do in this situation is to use our God-given spiritual weapons – prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel to the world.
How can we do this? Firstly, I’d invite you to do some reflection of your own and pray in response, but tomorrow I’ll share some suggestions for how we can pray and act in a way that takes this situation of war we’re in seriously.
 Image credit: Flickr user: Devar “RAAF Airshow: Counter Terrorism Response Group” CC BY-NC-ND 2.0