As news spread about the multiple Islamic State attacks in Paris which left approximately 129 dead and 355 wounded – the nations have come out in solidarity.
The increasing trend is for us as fellow humans to express our solidarity and sympathy online – be it Facebook, Twitter or some other social media platform.
One of the expressions that caught my attention straight away was the fact that many people’s social updates included prayer as a response.
Almost instantly both the Prime Minister and the First Minister said their prayers were with the People of Paris.
I am shocked by events in Paris tonight. Our thoughts and prayers are with the French people. We will do whatever we can to help. (David Cameron)
“Thoughts and prayers with the people of France tonight.” (Nicola Sturgeon)
Further memes emerged and spread like wildfire – again expressing the same sentiment “Pray for Paris”.
What are we to make of this? Europe, known for its rapid secularisation still has room for the word “prayer” in its vocabulary.
We need to ask, what is happening here? Is this a sign that tragedy is turning people back to God? Or, is it simply that we are using the word prayer as a synonym for “thoughts”? Probably, but that doesn’t make sense when we say “Thoughts and prayers with Paris.” – That would mean we are just saying, “thoughts and thoughts with Paris”. Then again – perhaps I’m expecting too much. Perhaps I’m wrong to expect consistency and rationality from a culture which is defined by relativism.
The en masse call to prayer, and claims to prayer also make me want to ask the question: who are we praying to? Who are we calling upon when we say, “pray for Paris.” Is it simply the case that in a multi-faith society that we are being called to pray to our individual deities?
Further how does this fit in with humanism?
Very close to humanism is the idea that God exists and all the diverse world religions are weak attempts to understand God. Consequently, they are all true in as much as they testify to some form of divine being. Therefore the heart of true religion is faith in some sort of deity, communion with this deity and an attempt to live our lives based on shared values – values such as honesty, goodness, kindness and respect. In other words we are seeing the coexistence of two different kinds of humanism. Non-religious humanism, and religious-humanism; religious humanism is not new. Religious humanism is simply paganism.
So here is what we have. We have Islamic State who are spreading terror in the name of “God”. We have masses of people responding in grief and praying to, and calling others to pray to an undefined “God” – and we have the secularists who are saying “God” is the problem in the first place – “y’all need to get rid of the concept of “God all together”. Religion is the cause of this madness in the first place.
So how does the church fit in to all this?
Firstly, we need to grieve with those who grieve. We need to pray. We need to comfort. We can’t contribute to civil unrest by attacking all Muslims in reaction to IS. There are many, many Muslims who detest what IS are doing. However, we need to guard against allowing ourselves to be merged into the large melting pot of humanistic religion. We need to be those who bring clarification and truth as well as compassion and care.
We need to be clear that the “god” of Islam is not the God of scripture. As we call the nation to pray, we need highlight who it is we should be praying to. The greatest need is not for the world to turn to prayer, the greatest need is for the world to turn to God. It is possible to turn to prayer without touching God.
Right now the nations are in the midst of a storm. Storms have a tendency to get people to look beyond themselves for help. We see this in the Bible too.
In the book of Jonah, a storm hits the ship and it reads –
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
How does Jonah respond?
He tells them who he is, and who His God is.
“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
In other words – Jonah’s God is not just any God. He is the Sovereign Lord who created heaven and earth. He is a God who is far more powerful than this storm that has come upon them.
Jonah then obeys God. His obedience impacts the sailors and it has an effect on the Storm. The storm passes.
The outcome is that: “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly.”. In other words, they found the True and Living God.
This is what our storm-tossed world needs more than ever – the true and living God. Those who are grieving need the comfort of the living and loving God. Those who kill in the name of a false God need to tremble in fear at the feet of the true, holy and just God. They need to repent before they come face-to-face with an angry God. A God who will be to them an eternal terror. Terror, not pleasure, will be their reward for the terror that they spread whilst here on earth.
Finally we need to magnify the salvation of God. We live in a world of turmoil. The world has been in turmoil since the fall. Western security and comforts are but a temporary illusion. The world is shaking, and only that which is built on eternal hope will last. Now is the time to seek the cross not a crown.
5 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more”, indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:25-29)