Due to safety regulations, this post was written anonymously.
For years my family and I have been preparing to head overseas. We have a church-based team heading to France early 2016. Our first team retreat was scheduled for Saturday, November 14, 2015. And then on November 13, all hell broke loose in Paris.
Needless to say, our team retreat started with heaviness and tears. We shared our thoughts and fears, as well as the truths from God’s Word that we were clinging to. We prayed for the victims, the attackers, our families, and the future of the gospel advancing among the Muslim Diaspora in France.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, four reflections help us to see a way to love the people of France through missions.
We need to embrace the tension of Psalm 83:16.
"Cover their faces with shame, Oh Lord, that they may fear your name, Oh Lord." (Ps. 83:16)
I think a lot of us have two responses to the terrorist attacks in France that hold tension.
My first response is a desire for the justice of God to bring retribution to the attackers. This could happen through just war or other means at God’s infinite disposal. But, we must take care not to distort this desire for justice into Islamophobia or into personal acts of vengeance. But the desire for God’s justice is not anti-gospel. Romans 12 curbs personal vengeance with the hope of God’s vengeance.
My second response rises from 2 Corinthians 5:16—as Christians, we can no longer view anyone from a worldly perspective. Terrorists are fallen image bearers who desperately need the saving power of the gospel. In reflecting on the character of God and the grace we’ve received, we pray for the salvation of terrorists and radicalized Muslims.
The good news is, in the Psalms we see both desires. In fact, to only pray for only one of these things would not capture all of God’s heart. Psalm 83:16 is paradigmatic for us in these moments, capturing both a desire for justice and for salvation.
We must recognize the potential of reaching a “Saul of ISIS.”
I dream a lot about fighting the spiritual war in France. I want to humbly serve in a French church. I want to see a flourishing gospel ministry to the poor and the marginalized, many of whom are North African. But my biggest dream is for God to use our team to reach a Saul of ISIS, and make him a Paul of Iraq—a man who can go places we could never go; who can reach people we could never reach. Perhaps through suffering and gospel proclamation, we can be like Stephen. Perhaps we can be instrumental in an Algerian man’s journey to Christ, who can then go on to reach hundreds of his people in France.
Marx’s indictment of religion-as-opiate should be proved wrong on an earthly and spiritual plane. Robust faith should drive Christians to charitable, political and military action. As Paul Miller points out in his book, A Loving Life, it was Augustine who said, “Sometimes the best way to love your enemy is to go to war with them.”
War is not my particular calling nor training. But I have the privilege and training to engage the spiritual front--the ideologies that set themselves up against Christ. As a missionary, events like the Paris attack should heighten our sense of desire to engage North Africans in France with the love of Jesus. How will they hear unless someone preaches to them?
We seek to balance safety and sacrifice.
As the leader of my family, I must balance the call-to-go with the call-to-care. First Corinthians 7:34 says that because I have a wife and kids, my interests in furthering the gospel are divided. I cannot behave as a single man on the mission field. Yet at the same time, Paul’s conclusion in 1 Corinthians 7 is to encourage undivided devotion to the Lord, even living as if we had no wife! So there is a both/and here.
So how do I balance sacrifice for the gospel with care for my family in places threatened by terrorism? Practically speaking, we flee death threats; we don’t swagger like a Christian cowboy toward them. Paul was lowered from a basket when harm was immanent and fled (Acts 9). But at the same time, God sent his Son to a dangerous land, with a certain threat of death. Paul went to Jerusalem amidst promised certain persecution. I can identify with Paul’s words as I talk to extended family, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
We remember the stats.
The truth is, there are far more dangerous places to serve than France. It takes far more courage for the everyday Christians in Syria, Iraq, and all across the Middle East.
Since 2000, there have been 162 deaths in France due to terrorism. 151 of those deaths have come in 2015. Compare this with the most recent WHO statistic from 2013, which lists 3,250 fatalities from car accidents. In other words, even in a year of terror for France, you are still 20x more likely to die by car accident than terrorist attack.
Thankfully, my hope is not in probabilities but in the Sovereign God who says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isa 45:7). And the God who controls every good and bad event of human history has promised to work all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). That good may not be safety. But it’s still good.