I hardly know how to begin, much less what to say. Another cowardly attack—this time in Paris. And make no mistake this attack, just like the one in New York on 9/11, was an attack against the world community. As of this writing it appears that 129 were murdered and some 350 or so were injured; 100 of those critically.
Like most of you I am struggling with feelings of profound sadness, deep concern, and anger. I don’t understand what such extremists hope to accomplish. Certainly they have managed to bring to a halt the daily routines of Parisians. But in the end, such attacks will only serve to strengthen the resolve of every civilized nation.
I find myself asking that question we all learned in church as young children, “What would Jesus do?” It’s probably not possible to answer that with any authority. Most of us would find a way to put in Jesus’ mouth the words WE would like him to say—to have him bless OUR notion of justice or retribution or forgiveness. The best we can do is consider his life as a whole to get a glimpse of what a true “kingdom response” might be.
Feel free to disagree with me, but I think first of all it is inconceivable to me that Jesus would favor returning violence for violence. I can’t recall a single instance in his recorded life in the gospels as recommending such a response. I more vividly remember him saying, “If someone hits you on the right side of the cheek, then turn and offer the left side, too.” That isn’t what we are hoping to hear today as we try to get our emotions in check. Don’t ask me why, but I imagine myself getting a sense of relief by gunning down all those who would seek to do harm. I don’t know why I would have those feelings and I’m not proud of them. Maybe that’s the reason our first response should be to reflect/pray. Emotional responses are usually wrong and only bring temporary satisfaction.
Would Jesus have attempted to physically stop the shooters had he been there? I don’t know. Maybe. But do I think Jesus would have stood next to someone and said to a shooter, “if you shoot them you have to shoot me too"? Yes I do. He proved as much by not avoiding a cross when he could easily have done so.
Do I believe Jesus would forgive these murderers? Yes. I just don’t know how he does it. It requires a strength that I don’t have—a faith that I don’t have—a belief that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God. I really do believe that—it’s just that today it’s hard for me to embrace it.
There will be those who will ask the question, “Where was God?” “Why didn’t God prevent this from happening?” Is it because He couldn’t? Or because She wouldn’t? Is it because God can see the whole board and that this attack somehow fits into a larger, overall plan? I wish I knew. What I believe most deeply in my soul today is that God WAS there and that the first scream and the first tear were God’s own.
For now, I plan to not only offer prayers for Paris, but I also plan to stand with Paris. Today, we must all be Parisians.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.