So, what do we do when the world comes crashing down? When skyscrapers fall? When mad men appease their merciless god with fear and death, a bloody worship and the praise of a mother’s agonizing grief?
Today our hearts are with the French. The chaos in those dark hours, made more terrifying by the light of the public venues in which they were enacted, must have been unimaginable. Lives of unique significance, irreplaceable value, have been lost. Countless families have been irreparably changed. For too many, innocence will inevitably give way to ideology. Joy will be overwhelmed by bitterness and hatred. Grief will incapacitate and drain some lives of any sense of purpose, of any belief in meaning. And none of us could blame any of them for such a depressing loss of perspective. Evil has that power.
Even before the smoke cleared, the disbelief and sadness, anxiety and a pious rage quickly brimmed over. Our shrinking world was beleaguered by a relentless media that streams the terror of a foreign creed and the smell of mass death into our quiet kitchens. It’s maddening and heartbreaking that this has happened again.
I wish it were surprising.
From the very beginning we humans have found it confoundingly difficult to get along, to respect difference, to celebrate diversity. And from the very first family conflict, we’ve displayed a penchant for solving our problems the bloodiest way possible. Brothers or enemies, it makes no difference. Sticks and stones, guns and weapons of increasingly mass death have been our choice. We’ve always preferred revenge to reconciliation, response to resolution, umbrage to understanding, righteous anger to honest answer.
We repay pain with more pain. Death with more death. Misunderstanding with close-minded resolve. We call it a solution, but all we have to show for a couple thousand years of strong-armed justice is the inevitable result of strong armed “justice.”
Real justice is smart, not strong—it is right, not might. It has restoration as its end, not retribution. It seeks wisdom and a world view wider than our own as a means to peace. And shalom—not just the absence of war, but the presence of respect and wholeness for all, true peace—must be the goal.
Have I regressed to idealism, to the rhetoric of religious hope? No. That’s just the easy critique of the response of faith, which understands, where most people do not, that we have only two choices: more of the same, or something different.
More pain—or brave resolve.
Those who choose pain revel in it. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” Tertullian wrote in the third century. It was inviolable truth then, and some things never change. Whatever offense these extremists hold against the West is imbued with the passion of religious orthodoxy. Those possessed of such a misguided view are clearly willing to kill and die for that belief, and they are not unlike the Apostle Paul whose passion inspired him to proclaim: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1.21).
So, an answer to the senseless, ungodly tragedy in Paris, that only means more death, will only mean more death.
Tonight I will pray for France, and I will say “salam,” which is Arabic for “peace.” And I will pray for the wisdom of the political and religious leaders of this world. One day, one of them will have the courage to stand, to ask the real questions, to seek the honest answers, to put understanding before nationalism, common kindness before religious dogma, justice before judgment, and the world will be changed.
Until then, it will just be more of the same.