Over 130 souls perishing on a single night is a tragedy. This was the gruesome occurrence that Parisians bore witness to just a week ago. Human life is precious, for it was created in God’s own image. And when it is deliberately snuffed out under whatever pretext, our hearts should rightly bleed.
It is instructive that how we handle tragedy or challenges displays the true state of our hearts. And it helps us assess the pedestal upon which our lives rest. When the ancient prophet Jonah boarded a ship to the city of Joppa, in defiance of God’s command to preach to the city of Nineveh, he brought God’s judgement upon his colleagues at sea (Jonah 1). A storm arose which threatened to break up the ship. We are told that the sailors cried out to their gods for deliverance. In their moment of grief, it was instinctive to ‘call upon their gods’.
When the Jewish men were faced with the possibility of losing their lives unless they bowed to an image (Daniel 3), they proclaimed their confidence in God. They chose to die rather than deny the true God. While in prison, Paul and Silas resorted to singing and rejoicing rather than mourning, for they knew that their affairs were ordered by the wisdom of a loving God (Acts 16). Their hope was in God. Many times during their wanderings in the desert, the Israelites murmured and complained about how God was handling their concerns. They lacked meat and did not get to eat the dishes they had been used to in Egypt. Challenges revealed their profound unbelief.
Tragedy reveals who we truly are. And this was also the case in the recent crisis in France. From the moment the incident was reported in the media, the world has shown solidarity with the French people. Leaders of both France and the United States have affirmed their belief in our common humanity, in defiance of the campaign of the terrorists.
While condemning the attacks, President Francois Hollande made the following statement:
“In these difficult moments, we must — and I’m thinking of the many victims, their families and the injured — show compassion and solidarity. But we must also show unity and calm. Faced with terror, France must be strong, it must be great and the state authorities must be firm. We will be.”*
Also speaking shortly after the incident, President Barack Obama sounded more ideological:
“Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress. Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong…We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté and égalité and fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but they are values that we share. And those values are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism or the hateful vision of those who perpetrated the crimes this evening.”#
What I miss in these responses is a reference to anything outside ‘the people’. It is the same humanistic confidence in our own ability and power to chart our own lives and secure our destiny as a people. It is all about Man; God has no place. This is the spirit which animates Europe and much of modern Western culture, and it is an outlook which pushes the civilization further along the brink of self-destruction.
During a CNN report on the attack, the words, “Fraternite, Equalite, Solidarite”, were displayed on the screen. And it brought to my mind the French Revolution of 1789, when the slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” were employed to proclaim the supremacy of the human individual over religious and political authority. “No God, No King” was the call. Those words have defined much of the modern world ever since.
Contrary to modern wisdom, national tragedy does not call for a reassertion of human sovereignty. No. It calls for humility, it calls for repentance, it calls for prayer. Tragedies reveal our finitude as humans. It uncovers our nakedness and frailty as mortal creatures. It destroys the pride of human achievement and it forces us to consider that, after all, we are but men.
France should seek Justice, no doubt. But it shouldn’t end there. Repentance and Faith should follow.