Just like you, I was horrified when I learned of last week’s terror attacks in Paris. The scale, precision, and barbarity of these crimes are hard to fathom.
My first reaction was sadness for the victims and a desire for peace. My second was a sense of mild panic. If they can do this in Paris, they can certainly do it in my city! My third reaction, I’m not particularly proud of:
I thought about how much I’d like to see the people responsible for these acts hunted down and destroyed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about 9/11 lately. I remember the way that we as a nation went through this same three-step process. We went from shock and sympathy to fear and paranoia, and finally to the conviction that we must annihilate those who attacked us.
It all happened so quickly.
The world’s first reaction to 9/11 wasn’t a call to war; it was a process of grieving. The whole world was shocked. President George W. Bush got on television and quoted from the 23rd Psalm. People around the globe flew the American flag. They prayed for us. Even folks who were normally our enemies expressed condemnation for the attacks. Never before or since has the world loved America so much.
But soon things began to change. We started to panic. No one knew whether there might be more attacks on the way. Thousands ran to the supermarket to stock up for the apocalypse. Gas stations were overwhelmed by lines of vehicles, rushing to fill up before it all ran out. There were reports of profiteering; some stations marked up the gas to several times its normal price.
Before we could even process our grief, we went straight to fear.
In the days and weeks following the attacks, our leaders chose to exploit that fear. We could have treated 9/11 as a terrible crime to be prosecuted. We could have deemed it a threat to public order, punishable by law. We might even have taken this terrible day as an invitation to turn the other cheek and walk in the way of forgiveness.
Instead, our national leaders – of both parties – declared war.
Through this so-called war on terror, we would launch a disastrous invasion and occupation of Afghanistan that continues to this day. The United States would spend trillions of dollars and destroy millions of lives in a futile and short-sighted invasion of Iraq.
Rather than destroying our enemies, we multiplied them.
As I mourn the precious lives lost in the city of Paris, I pray that the people of France will avoid the terrible lost opportunities of my nation. It is not too late to turn hatred into love and forgiveness. There is still time to mourn and seek comfort. The whole world is ready to feel the pain with you. I promise.
Right now, my dear brothers and sisters in France have an opportunity to show their true hearts. We are all longing to see how very different the French people are from those who wrought such terrible bloodshed in their streets. We in America failed to embrace our opportunity, but that doesn’t have to be the fate of France.
I am praying that the Holy Spirit will touch the hearts and minds of the French people, now and in the days ahead. May you become a nation that shows the rest of us the way. May you become a people of God’s peace.