Another terrorist attack fills our TV screens, this time from Paris, with 17 dead. Journalists from France report the largest outpouring of solidarity demonstrations since the Second World War.
As I prepare to transition to Switzerland and serve at a school that trains predominantly French people for ministry in France, I was touched more by the attack, as well as some of the underlying tensions that it exposes in France. It’s challenging to offer a simple response as a Christian.
We should “weep with those who weep.” Tears are the better first response than cultural commentary. One article cited the words of a theologian who teaches at the Bible School of Geneva: “The most human of humans should be Christians.” This is a time to be human, with lives marked by real compassion and real grief.
The attack and the aftermath highlight that it is easy to despise those who dishonor what we hold most sacred. The magazine that was attacked, Charlie Hebdo (“Charlie Weekly”) made its niche in publishing biting satire, often with caustic illustrations and inflammatory cartoons mocking religious or political figures, especially Christianity and Islam. One of the editors was clear about his goal, “We have to carry on until Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism.”
The radical Muslims who were behind the shooting, “justified” the terrorism to protect the honor of their god. This is a terrible wrong. But its hard to ignore the quasi-religious zeal behind some of the Charlie Hebdo publications. Personal freedom of expression is made sacred over everything else– no limits and no caution. Degrading articles and inflammatory cartoons serve as a zealous expression of that freedom. Some of the aggressive French satire has roots that go deep into history and originated in reaction to authoritarian abuses from the church and State.
The salvation offered in Jesus chastens this kind of reactive zeal. Jesus saved us, not by fighting shame with violence, but by going through shame with patience. One of the main features that each Gospel writer highlights in the crucifixion of Jesus is the mockery, even blasphemy, he endured. In the midst of dishonor, he demonstrated the depths of love and trust. He took on shame he didn’t deserve, to lift shame from sinners that they did deserve. In this Jesus reveals that we don’t fight to rescue God’s glory from shame, it is God’s glory that rescues us from shame.
This perspective gets practical in the book of 1 Peter. Peter calls us to follow the example of Jesus, enduring suffering by entrusting our lives to God. It’s difficult to love those who blaspheme what we passionately revere. But being united to Jesus gives us profound inner strength to be gracious, humble, and honest in the face of offense.
We live in a world with increasingly stronger religious differences. More conflict is likely to come. Jesus calls to be peacemakers, or, as one French translation beautifully puts it, “artisans de paix.”
Consider an extreme case: what if we had an editor of Charlie Hebdo as a neighbor on one side of the street and someone we viewed as a potential Muslim extremist on the other? Over time, would they know where we stand and yet confess we were kind? That seems to be Peter’s vision. He tells his readers to live lives of honor and good works amid those who may speak evil against us.
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
This is possible because of Jesus. He stamped our passports with a true citizenship to a coming world where “everything will be made new” with resurrection power. That can strengthen us to be honorable and good neighbors without bitter retaliation when our God is mocked or even blasphemed. He has proved He can handle that himself.