Seven people died and almost 50 were wounded in yet another terrorist attack in the U.K. this week. This is the second assault on British civilians by Islamist radicals in the past two weeks and the fourth in the past year. Citizens of the United Kingdom could rightfully feel under siege, wondering when and where the next blow may fall.
As our hearts go out to the victims and their families, how many of us are haunted by the possibility that this could happen to us? In wondering that, we are playing out exactly the scenario hoped for by the perpetrators of this carnage.
For in reality, while the victims of terrorism are those who are killed or wounded, the targets of the attack are the rest of us, the watching public. Killing and maiming is a secondary goal of terrorism. The primary goal of terrorism is terror. We are meant to be terrified and by that terror, incapacitated. The terrorist seeks to undermine, to rend the very fabric of our society.
In 2000, my family fell victim to a terrorist attack in Central Asia. I was gravely wounded and my husband seriously wounded by masked men armed with hatchets who burst into our home in the middle of the night, beating us while we lay in our beds. We survived the attack and were airlifted out of the country where we had been living and working for four years. Our local colleagues were certain they would never see us again.
Yet we went back to that country for another six years of service after the attack. Some people thought we were foolish to do so. But we felt that to be dissuaded from what we believed to be important work by hatchet-wielding thugs would be a betrayal of the calling we had received to go and serve there.
Going back was not easy. Sleeping was not easy. Trusting was not easy. Living was not easy. We realized that fear was stalking us. Some of our fears were rational. We had been targeted and in some ways our decisions needed to be informed by that unfortunate reality. We moved to a different house and neighborhood. We were more careful about our security.
But some of our fears were irrational and as such had to be resisted, lest we become inert, ineffective, and impotent. The fires of irrational fear are lit by the terrorist and stoked by media coverage. In the United States in 2016, 60 people died in terrorist attacks. That is 60 too many.
But during that same year, 40,000 people died in automobile accidents. Which frightens you more, the threat of a terrorist incident or driving in your car? Why are you more threatened by terrorism than by pulling onto the highway? Because every terror incident is recited endlessly by the media, whereas automobile accidents hardly merit a mention on our media outlets!
Christians have been particular targets for terrorists. Many followers of Christ have lost their lives in places like North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. One could argue that we, more than others, should be afraid. But Jesus anticipated our situation when he commanded us in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Jesus also tells us in Matthew 5:44 that we must “bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.” And lest we think He may not have lived up to His own teaching, we can see His response to John the Baptist’s murder in Matthew 14:13: “...He went away by boat to a quiet place by Himself.” Even His response to His own murder in Luke 23:34, when in the midst of His execution, He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Thus, in obedience to our Lord, our response to terrorism must be fundamentally different from the response we see in the world around us. We must not give in to irrational fear. We must pray for our enemies. We must love our enemies.
Our love for God is measured by our love for the people He created. Love is not approval. Love is expressed in a desire to see people come to Christ. When we think of present-day terrorists, let’s be inspired by a first century terrorist named Saul of Tarsus.
While we can support rational governmental responses to the threat of terrorism, our response must be informed by our faith and our theology, and transcend the fear and hatred terrorism is intended to stoke. May God hear our cry and grant that bold apostles to the nations might be called out of the midst of our enemies.