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Reflections on the Charlie Hebdo massacre

March 2015

On Wednesday 7 January 2015, France was plunged into shock. The attack at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper left 12 people dead; and five more were killed the following two days.

How should Christians react to such events? Here are some things we should bear in mind.

First, we must ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). This tragedy cost the lives of 17 people created in the image of God, all with families. We must pray for the bereaved, that they will find solace in God through Christ.

But we are to pray too for terrorists and their families. Jesus calls us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45); Paul urges: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse’ and, ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil’ (Romans 12:14).

God’s justice

But we must still pray for justice. Even if, on a personal level, we pray for our enemies and turn the other cheek, we pray justice will be applied by the authorities. In his grace, God has established these authorities to restrict and punish evil (Romans 13:4).

We know that no final justice exists in this world; it is in the hands of God: ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord’ (Romans 12:19). 

We must also know that acts of barbarism are a reminder of sin. It is as if there is a memory card in our mind and conscience which tells us that our world was once in a better state, but we are all twisted.

Rousseau said that man is born good and it is society that corrupts him. But the Bible says that man is born bad and the problem does not come from outside but within. We are all guilty before God because of our sin (Romans 3:10, 23). The only solution is for people to have a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). People desperately need the grace of God, which is offered to all through the preaching of the gospel.

We should reaffirm our role as peacemakers. Although I do not agree with everything Charlie Hebdo says, nor its way of saying it, I don’t want to create unnecessary controversy. I must be a witness to the peace God offers in Jesus.

Shining lights

This tragic event is a reminder of the needs of the persecuted church — that there are brothers and sisters in Christ dying every day because of their Christian faith. We must remain conscious of them, even if we do not always talk about them. 

We are called to be witnesses to Christ. Let our words be gentle (Proverbs 15:1) and full of sweetness. Let us seek wisdom and love amid such events. We are called to be lights shining all the brighter for the darkness. We should pray for society’s peace and freedom. National unity was the theme of the following Sunday’s huge rally across France, with its record mobilisation of at least 3.7 million people.

But there was a sobering reminder of the opposite mood, in the Facebook page ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’. As I write, this page has received more than 24,000 likes.

Very few of the mainly Muslim French people who like this page are supporters of violent acts. But they make it clear that they will not take part in a national movement that backs people insulting the prophet Muhammad. They are angry at what they see as double standards: Why is it all right for Charlie Hebdo to mock Islam, when the controversial comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala is prosecuted for mocking Jews? Why is one defined as ‘inciting hatred’ and not the other? France is far from united; we need to pray. 

Future hope

Our hope lies in a new heavens and new earth. Before the return of Jesus Christ, we still live in a world stained by sin. But God has promised us that one day he will wipe away every tear. ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).

The author is a missionary working in France

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