We went to bed on Monday night to the news that an explosion had been reported at an Ariana Grande gig in Manchester. We now know that it was a terrorist attack leaving 22 dead and 59 injured, many of them children. The UK terror alert has been raised to critical meaning that another attack is feared imminent.
How do we respond? Here are some responses we have seen over the past 24 hours:
Grief – sadness at the tragedy of young lives lost. Empathy with those who are suffering.
Anger – recognition that this is evil. The sense of horror is heightened by the fact that children and young teens were targeted. Anger includes a desire for something to happen, vengeance, justice, prevention of further attacks. Several times I’ve seen and heard comments to the effect of “candle lighting, vigils and speeches are fine but what are we going to do?”
Compassion and bravery – taxis turning off their meters, people running to help, queues at blood banks and rooms offered where those affected could find shelter.
Determination – this has been typified in the speeches stating that the terrorists will not win and the determination of people to go about their normal business.
These are good and right responses and we will have seen something of that in our reading of Revelation. The book of Revelation gives us a vision of the full horror of evil in this world. This World when it follows Satan’s ways and opposes Christ is beastly. It is not that some people are monsters and others angels, it is that all sin is ugly – what we saw on Monday night was just one horrific expression of it. Sin is ugly because it brings death, sin is ugly because it causes suffering to others but most of all sin is ugly because it is defiant against the good and loving God.
Grief and anger are right responses because we look at a world that is not as it is intended. God made a good and beautiful world. He made us to love and worship him and to look after his creation. The cruelty, hatred and destruction we see stand against that goodness. We grieve at death. There is real tragedy in young lives being cut off so suddenly. These were people made in God’s image, made with value and dignity, made with a purpose. The terrorists of ISIS see nothing of that. Each death to them is just a propaganda statistic, something to gloat about, something to cause more fear.
Our grief should go further though. It is not just a matter of empathy and emotional distress. Rather, grief in its fullness comes with repentance, not just crying but crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus said:
“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
Yes, there is a righteous anger – a desire for action and justice. But as we have seen so clearly in Revelation, vengeance belongs to God because he is the only one who can bring true and lasting justice. This does not mean that the police and security services should not seek out those who plotted this attack, arrest them and bring them to court. Nor, do I believe that there is no case for military action against countries that sponsor terrorism as a means of conducting war. It does mean though that we should be wary of responses that are simply about revenge, a desire to get even, a response born out of rage. Such responses will simply lead to an ever-escalating cycle of bloodshed.
God’s justice will remove all evil and wrong doing so that his people can live in peace and safety for eternity.
8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.”(Revelation 22: 15).
If we believe that justice belongs with God then this should significantly challenge our view of those who did this. One day, they will stand before God. Justice will either happen then as they face eternity in hell or justice will already have happened for them on the Cross when Jesus took their place. As we saw a few weeks back, our prayer should be that the latter will happen and that they will hear and respond to the Gospel.
Determination without hope becomes an impossible grind. We can only sustain it for so long. That’s the problem expressed in the anger isn’t it? We can keep going, we can make the brave speeches, we can hashtag that we stand with Manchester, London, Nice but the anger expresses a powerlessness. The intelligence services work day and night to spot and prevent threats but still one breaks through, troops have been sent into Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria but regime change does not stop the terror. What is the hope we have?
This links to another point -the fatal flaw in our “Prevent” strategies. You see, you cannot cure fanaticism by educating people to be a little bit more liberal and mainstream. Values randomly chosen by politicians are not going to win hearts and minds. The fanatic does what he does because he has a hope. The problem is that it is a false hope. Revelation 21:8 and Revelation 22:15 make it clear, no paradise and 70 virgins for the suicide bomber. His treatment of women as sexual objects there to queue up for his gratification and his willingness to take innocent lives mark him out as one who belongs outside of God’s City not inside.
The only cure for his fanaticism is the true and greater hope of the Gospel. It is this hope that will turn men of violence to peace. It is this hope that enables us to keep going through terror, to not live in fear, to forsake bitterness and to forgive.
It is fascinating that as a church we find ourselves coming to the end of Revelation just at this time. This incredible vision gives us God’s heavenly perspective on the whole of history from the end of time. Yes, there is great evil in the World but Christ is reigning and extending his kingdom, yes there is great evil but Satan is finite, limited and defeated. Yes, there is great suffering now but it is temporary. A day is coming when:
“ He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)