The Gospel Coalition Australia


On Paris and living with fear

On Saturday morning I was driving to brunch when I heard a breaking news report on the radio: 18 people killed when someone opened fire at a bar in Paris.

Not long after that, the news reports started to flood my Facebook feed. It was not just one attack, but a series of coordinated attacks. An explosion at a friendly soccer game between France and Germany. A theatre full of concert goers taken hostage. Then, as police attempted to rescue the hostages, three suicide bombers blew themselves up inside the theatre, killing over a hundred people. It now appears there were six coordinated attacks. The death toll stands at 129.

I don't get it. Who does that?

Yes, we all hurt each other daily with our selfish words and thoughtless actions, but I can't get past the fact that the sinful heart that lives in me seems different to the desire to blow yourself up, taking down every person near you. They don’t seem to be of the same magnitude.

Though I wish it were not true, I am increasingly convinced there are people in this world who get out of bed each day intent on doing harm to others. But I still don’t get it.

It is not, I suppose, outside the realm of possibility that circumstance and need would collide in such a way to cause me to behave in the same way as those who attacked Paris yesterday. But I can’t imagine it.

Two years ago I was in Paris. It could easily have been me in that bar, now lying still in the street with a bullet in my brain.

It is not me; but it is someone. Someone else’s daughter, mother, sister. I think that’s why these attacks distress me so much. Not because I have lost someone, but because someone has. And they had no warning, no lead-time to say goodbye, no chance to pre-grieve the loss of a loved one.

That’s the problem with terrorism: it’s frighteningly effective. It’s so random, so unpredictable, so, well, terrifying.

I’m scared, aren’t you?

I worry about Islamic State. A lot. A friend recently told me that it was irrational to panic about terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world, because while it’s right and proper to grieve and be sad for those who are victims, we happen to be the residents of a mostly safe and prosperous country.

In one way, my friend is right. A suicide bomber has never threatened my life, and I am able to go about my daily life with a great degree of ease. I don’t need to carry a weapon to defend myself; I don’t really even need to worry about catching a train home late at night. For the most part, I feel safe.

But am I really wrong to fear what is objectively frightening? There are few who would contend that Islamic State is not awfully scary. It would be reckless to not be a little afraid of someone who will decapitate you given half a chance. It’s not wrong to be afraid, but it’s not good to let fear control you.

So read the news reports, grieve with the victims, cry, call for justice, and get angry with those criminals who thought it was their right to take 129 lives. And pray. Pray for the victims’ families; pray for the dismantling of Islamic State; pray for France as the nation grieves. And then, when you've sunk to the depths of your grief in light of these attacks, thank God for the life he's given you, then go and live it.

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