I am writing on the morning after the bomb in Manchester which killed 22 people, injured another 59 and we are waiting for news of those who are still missing, including an eight year old girl. The nation and the world has been shocked and filled with disbelief, anger, grief and a sense that things might be getting worse, out of control and that nowhere in the world is now safe. I am wrestling with what to say, knowing that I can’t possibly write all that needs to be said but I can write something to encourage a good response in us all.
Once the shock as passed we need to ask, “how should Christian disciples respond?” There are some immediate very practical responses we can make. There will also be longer term responses, as God leads us through lament to radical and lasting change as his people.
Practically, we must try and strike the right balance between two extremes. We must not let this wash over us, with no emotion, turning our hearts cold and hard to yet another shocking news item. This is real and affects real people and so we should not be wearied by yet another tragedy. Nor should we, at the other extreme, collapse in uncontrolled grief and shock. It is right to weep with those who are weeping, to grieve with those who grieve (Romans 12:15). I have shed a tear this morning for those who can’t find loved ones, especially parents looking for children. The Apostle Peter calls us to be self controlled and prayerful as we respond (1 Peter 4:7).
If the tragedy has affected anyone we know personally, then we can ask the Lord for wisdom to know what to do or say. And we can pray. We pray for the families of victims to be comforted in their sorrow; we can give thanks for all the acts of kindness and the work of the emergency services; we should cry out to God for wisdom, courage and compassion as we make Christ known in all the world.
There may be reports of Muslims being persecuted by non-Muslims in reaction to terrorism, but this cannot be a Christian disciple’s response. It is wrong to stereotype people when there is such complexity and diversity within the Muslim world. All people are created by God in his image and are precious in his sight. Everyone needs the deep repentance and faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord which leads to eternal salvation. Christians must never seek to pay back wrong for wrong but to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thess 5:15).
Longer term, what will come of this when we turn our thoughts to God? Most Western people will have a belief system which says “I cannot believe in a god who would let such a terrible thing happen.” In other words, if God could stop this and didn’t, I don’t want to know him! This response is understandable but it shows a closed mind and lack of knowledge of God. As we seek the truth of who God is, he will change our view of Him if we ask “Is there any way I can trust God, if he could have stopped this, but didn’t?” or “If God allowed this to happen for good reasons, which I can’t see or understand, what should my response be to him?”
God has put it on my heart to pray through Lamentations for the past two weeks and I have the real sense he was preparing me and Holy Trinity to enter a season of lament, crying out to God for the way things have gone wrong in the Western church. Culturally, the British don’t lament, we grumble with a stiff upper lip. We can and should learn how to lament from the scriptures. The book of Lamentations was most probably written by the prophet Jeremiah when the city of Jerusalem was under siege and fell to the invading armies of the Babylonians as God called his people to repentance and faith. Chapter 5 is a cry to God to restore us to Himself as we realise our helplessness without him. Will you pray it with me? Some themes of this lament, though not all of them, strike a deep chord with us all today and move us to radical and lasting change.
With love, Neil
Lamentations chapter 5
Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
look, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.
Our pursuers are at our necks;
we are weary; we are given no rest.
We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria,
to get bread enough.
Our fathers sinned, and are no more;
and we bear their iniquities.
Slaves rule over us;
there is none to deliver us from their hand.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
because of the sword in the wilderness.
Our skin is hot as an oven
with the burning heat of famine.
Women are raped in Zion,
young women in the towns of Judah.
Princes are hung up by their hands;
no respect is shown to the elders.
Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
and boys stagger under loads of wood.
The old men have left the city gate,
the young men their music.
The joy of our hearts has ceased;
our dancing has been turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!
For this our heart has become sick,
for these things our eyes have grown dim,
for Mount Zion which lies desolate;
jackals prowl over it.
But you, O Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us.