In the midst of the 9/11 attacks, my class load at Charleston Southern University was littered with bizarre irony. Here we were in the midst of the worst terrorist attack in American history, and I was taking classes such as World Geography, History of Western Civilization, and Intro to Political Science. All courses that would be ripe with possibilities for class discussion.
It was that Poli Sci class where the professor asked a poignant question just a few days after the Twin Towers fell. He stood in front of the class and pointedly quizzed us with this: "Have you ever cried when you've watched the news?"
We weren't sure exactly what he was asking. Why would we cry watching the news? He went on to tell a story that has stayed with me for over a decade.
He said there was a country in South America where the men were all off fighting a war. The news story one night featured a story on the "Dancing Women of War", or something to that affect. It was about all of the women in the soldiers’ lives: their mothers, sisters, and wives, out in the streets of the town slow dancing. They danced as if they were with their beloved soldier, though he wasn't actually there. They cried as they danced, imagining that the very worst could be happening in some distant battlefield, but also dreaming of how it would be to hold their sons, brothers, husbands, and yes, even daddies, in their arms.
The professor told us as he watched the news that night, he wept. The scene was so sad, so hopeless, begging for resolution and reconciliation, but none arrived.
I was taken aback. I'd never cried at the news before. Like you, perhaps, I had become desensitized to the tragedy, the senseless violence, and the unfathomable horror strewn across the TV screen each night.
Now as I sit in front of the news tonight, I'm facing the dilemma again: do I see the attacks in Paris as another terrorist attack to shake my head at, or do I sit, let my heart open, and sit silently begging for God to come and do...something?
How do you feel if you live in Paris? If this murderous landscape is your backyard? You weep. You sit in silence questioning everything. You get angry. You blank out with red rage, only to realize the evil ones you want to destroy already destroyed themselves. But not until they shredded your streets with senseless carnage.
Many of us live without fear of terrorism knocking on our door. It's a haunting reality that is reserved for vast reaches of the globe. However, it occasionally gathers its curious wits and bullies us right where we are. These are the times I'm wanting, if not begging God to come and bring his wrath.
One of David's Psalms speaks to the revenge of his enemies: "Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals." (Psalm 63:9,10) Make no mistake about it: the terrorists that slaughtered over 150 innocent people in Paris are our enemies. They are not just the enemies of Christianity; they are the enemies of any human who desires to live life free of fear and full of hope.
I'm angry. I'm frustrated. As a Christian, I find it difficult to wrap my arms around the teachings of Christ to love our enemies. I'm disgusted at the things ISIS has done. I'm puzzled by the fact that we can't just go over there and blow them all up. I'm miffed that the complexities and intricacies don't allow for this to be a simple "hunt, kill, and be done" mission.
If I were completely honest, I'm questioning God. How does a God that promises to care for those who love him fail so badly in protecting them? How does he allow a group bent on hatred and destruction thrive in so many seemingly unstoppable ways? O God, where is your sword?
The post-tragedy fads have begun. The salutes and well wishes are plastered all over social media. I imagine even now where it's turning into the wee hours of the morning in Paris, residents are waking up to horror. That is, if they ever went to sleep. Hours will drag by, days will wane, and weeks will pass. Loved ones will be buried, the injured will heal or pass, the survivors will tell their stories to all who will listen, and businesses will file insurance claims to try rebuilding what was ripped completely from them for no reason at all. The rest of us, we'll reduce it all to a hash tag of activism, a little solace to let no one specific know we're doing what we should already be doing without announcing it, to #PrayForParis.
Months will pass. Christmas will come and go. 2015 will fade into a not-too-distant past. Spring flowers will bloom and young lovers will snap pictures of the Eiffel Tower. The sting of what has happened tonight will linger. In Paris and the U.S. and all over the world, we'll continue to ask why. Why this happened. Why Paris? Why so many? Why did God give the free reign to those who hate those who aren’t like themselves, wielding AKs and bombs strapped to their chests?
And in some silent moment, as we beg for our God to bring heavy his sword upon the cowards of terrorism, we'll hear it. We'll see it. The answer that has always been true before and is certainly true today. While the faces of evil may win some battles, the ultimate war has already been won. God already defeated death, so we don't have to.
I'd encourage you to watch the news of these horrendous attacks. Don't watch it for the voyeuristic entertainment value. Watch it so that your heart may be wrecked for those who suffer at the hands of evil. Watch it to weep. And know the God of the sword is also the God of comfort and in the end, all will be made right.