by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Today, as in recent weeks, the world is reeling from terrorist attacks on Beirut, Lebanon and Paris, France. Many are fearful, both of more attacks and of the unknown strangers who might perpetrate them. But there is at least one person who has refused to live in fear, or surrender to hatred.
Frenchman Antoine Leiris’ wife was killed in the attacks on Paris. Afterward, he wrote a tribute to her and posted it on Facebook. It reads, in part, “Friday night you took away the life of an exceptional human being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. . . . You certainly sought it, . . . that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, . . . You lost. I will carry on as before.”
His is perhaps the most constructive response we can make. We can refuse to hate, we can refuse to be afraid of our neighbors. Jesus told the people who listened to the Sermon on the Mount, “‘For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? . . . Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (Matt. 5:46, 48 ESV).
It’s easy to hate people who would do such things. In my heart, I want our military to rain fire on them and drop bombs on them. I want them to pay for what they’ve done, with their lives. I want them to suffer, as their victims did. But that isn’t what we’re called to do or how we’re called to respond. Instead, Jesus calls us to “‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’” (vs. 44b-45a ESV). We might be afraid, we might be hurting, we might be angry with good reason, but we can refuse to hate, we can refuse to distrust our neighbors.
After the 9/11 attacks fourteen years ago, I wrote, “those of us who are members of the community of faith know that ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the lord.’ (Rom. 12:19b KJV). . . Our call is for a higher justice, one that meets the holy standards of God.” ( Person-2-Person, October, 2001). I still believe that. If we surrender to hatred, if we surrender to vengeance, the forces of terror have already won. There are any number of very real threats, and we can and should protect ourselves but we must never cross the line to vengeance.
In the aftermath of the recent attacks, Mosques in various parts of the US were attacked. But seven-year-old Jack Swanson, of suburban Austin, TX, chose to respond differently. He emptied his piggy bank, went in person to a local mosque that had been defaced, and donated $20 to help with the cleanup. Afterward, young Jack said, “We were talking in the car how someone smeared poop on their church, and that was a really, really awful thing to do, and we had a good conversation what churches are for and how everybody’s churches are important.” Jack is a young person who understands the difference between love and hate, between enemies and people who simply believe differently. Like Antoine Leiris, he has chosen not to hate, not to be frightened. In that respect, he is a very brave young man. I pray that we will all learn his lesson.
I can’t say I’d respond as Antoine Leiris did or even as young Jack Swanson did. In all honesty, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t think I’m that kind of person. I don’t think I’m that strong or that loving. But God is, and God, who made us in God’s image, calls us to be better than we can be in our own resources. If we expect to be “perfect,” we need God’s help. We can do all things through the one who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).
As we prepare to celebrate the time when ultimate, perfect love came into the world (John 3:17, 1 Tim. 1:15), let’s remember that we have a God who is love (1 John 4:8). Let’s live as children of God and celebrate the child of God, who taught us to love as we are loved.
“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal
Copyright © 2015 by David Phelps