How to Keep the Terrorists From Winning

Another act of senseless, terrorist violence has left more than 120 people in Paris dead and many, many more wounded. I’m heartbroken, exhausted, and infuriated all at the same time. I’m also deeply concerned about how the world in general, and Christians in particular, are going to respond.

These first few hours and days immediately following these kinds of attacks are crucial. The way we respond now will certainly have long-lasting effects (see my recent post about America’s own response to the attacks on 9/11). It is imperative, therefore, that we avoid knee-jerk, heat-of-the-moment, reactions that will only escalate the problem. That is exactly what the terrorists are hoping we will do.

What the Terrorists Want?
They want us to be afraid. They want us to be angry. They want us to hate them. They want us to respond with violence, because when we do, we justify their cause in their eyes. They want to divide us. They want us to close our doors and borders and live in a constant state of suspicion and fear. They want us to think that all Muslims are just like them. They want us to start hating and attacking the peaceful, nonviolent Muslims living in our communities because they hope that doing so will convert more Muslims to their cause. Please don’t miss this. When we react in fear fear, the terrorists win. When we react in anger, the terrorists win. When we react in hatred and Islamaphobia, the terrorists win. When we react in violence, the terrorists win. We must not let that happen.

How Do We Respond?
We mourn.
We weep, we grieve, we give voice to our anger and our frustration without letting it consume us. The Psalms can be very helpful in that regard. The Psalms teach us how to give voice to our emotions in our prayers to God (see Psalm 55 for just one example). Expressing our grief and anger and frustration and confusion is important, but how we express it is important, too. Perhaps we should consider expressing it to God in private, not to the world on social media.

We pray. We pray for the victims. We pray for their families. We pray for those who are caring for the wounded and the law enforcement officers. We pray for ourselves. We pray for the leaders who will must make incredibly difficult decisions in the coming days and hours. And, yes, we pray for our enemies. That is what our Lord has commanded us to do.


You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:43-45

We refuse. We refuse to be consumed by fear. We refuse to react in anger. We refuse to let them divide us. We refuse to succumb to the lies of Islamaphobia. 

We love. We love our neighbor. We love our enemy. We love ourselves. We love our God by keeping his commandments, even when it’s hard. Love is greater than fear. May God grant us the strength and the courage to love even when all we feel is hate. May God grant us the strength and courage to live out these words from Paul.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary,“if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:14-21

8 Comments

  1. Thanks again for this teaching. I think naturally we are drawn to anger and vengeance when something terrible happens. thanks for reminding us to what we are called to do.

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  2. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    God is love and light and in whom there is no darkness at all. Vengeance is not “punishment” here but means the execution of that which is right, a restoration to victims rather than punishment to offenders, redeeming what is lost. “I will repay” , God will repay and fulfill to His children that which has been lost.

    Proverbs 25:21
    “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat;
    and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
    For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head,
    and the Lord shall reward YOU”

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    1. “Vengeance is not “punishment” here but means the execution of that which is right, a restoration to victims rather than punishment to offenders.”

      Unfortunately, this is simply not true. A little help from the immediate context (“but leave room for God’s wrath”), a Greek lexicon, the source from which it’s quoted (Deuteronomy 32:35), and a Hebrew lexicon, will make that clear.

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  3. Vengeance – the execution and maintenance of that which is right. Restoration to victims not punishment of offenders will always return to the injured party that which is right and that which is lost. God restores good fro evil and evil breaks itself on the light of God.

    Why would God tell us in context to “recompense to no man evil for evil”, “Live peaceably with all men” “not avenge ourselves”. and turn to vengeance himself? The word “repay” in the verse is not God speaking to the offenders but those who have suffered loss. God will repay us all that was lost, and stolen. (proverbs 25:22 – the Lord will reward thee) not God repaying punishment to an offender.

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    1. As I told you in my email, I am not interested in discussing that particular question on this thread; it is only tangentially related to the topic of the original post. As I told you in my email, I am happy to discuss it in via a different medium. Feel free to respond to my emails. Further attempts to continue the discussion on this thread will not be approved.

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