The Guardian newspaper’s headline this week of “Young lives stolen by terror” gives us a stark reminder that the days we live in are truly dark ones. However, we cannot judge these days as being unusual. I grew up (as many did) with the constant threat of what was called the Northern Ireland conflict. Instances such as ‘Bloody Friday’ in 1972, Enniskillen in November 1987 and the 1996 Manchester bombing were all examples of terror in our nation at that time. Sadly, violence with the intention of intimidating normal society has been around for as long as the history books can record.
Knowing this, however, does not make what we have witnessed this week any less awful. Throughout history names change, weapons evolve and conditions fluctuate, yet when hatred, jealousy, bitterness and misguided ideology are allowed to seep into people’s hearts, violence is the inevitable outcome.
In John 16 Jesus warns us that “an hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
During a ministry trip to Northern Ireland back in the late 80s I was introduced to two men who were now great friends. One was an ex UDA (Ulster Defence Association) member and the other an ex IRA (Irish Republican Army) one. Both men had since encountered Jesus and were now functioning together in a Christian community. Previously due to their differing ideology they would have killed each other.
Interestingly if the apostle Paul had been alive today he may well have initially been seen as the equivalent to a first-century ISIS leader. As Saul of Tarsus he was a radical Pharisee, a leader in a sect of Pharisees who were dragging Christian men and women into the city squares and stoning them to death. His deadly escapades ended abruptly when he had a supernatural encounter with Jesus on the road leading to Damascus. He not only ceased his murderous ways but became one the greatest Christian leaders in history.
So, it is clear, the solution to the problem is encountering God our Father through Jesus Christ, the vehicle, a Holy Spirit empowered, Gospel living and proclaiming church. Isaiah 60:1 encourages us to “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
The church in our day has huge responsibility because of the revelation of Jesus in our lives, to be a witness of something altogether different. Our prayer meetings should be charged with the hope of God’s incoming transformative power. Our speech should be dripping with good news. Our ways among others should be lased with grace. Paul reminds us that even where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. (Romans 5:20)
During times like this we need to comfort those who are troubled or mourning, we need to be ready to explain the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, and we need to reach out to our neighbours regardless of ethnicity or religious preference.
I would suggest It would be reasonably true to say that all jihadists are Muslims however, not all Muslims are Jihadists. Muslims are also the target of extremist activity. Let us not be suspicious or withdraw in fear or anger but let’s demonstrate the Love of God through compassion and neighbourly engagement.
Psalm 37: 8, 10-11 says “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace”.
Pray for the residents of Manchester, pray for the grieving and wounded, also pray that the church in that city arise like a city on hill that cannot be hidden.