Responding to tragedy - prayer, post or preach?
Mark Sims asks how should Christians react to high-profile terrorist atrocities - with prayer, a Facebook post or just a conversation?
What is the best way to react to large-scale tragedy like the March 27 suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, which took at least 72 lives, some of whom were Christians celebrating Easter; or the terrorist attacks that left 31 dead in Brussels on March 22? Is it prayer, a heartfelt Facebook post, or a solemn conversation with someone before changing the subject to something more bearable?
All three are reasonable responses that many would do without any second-guesses.
As a Christian, prayer should be a priority. What to pray, though? That God would bring comfort to the survivors and the bereaved? It’s hard to pray this sincerely, when I don’t know any of them. Should I pray that this sort of thing never happens again? It’s likely that people asked for this when #PrayForParis was a popular trend on social media after the 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Bataclan music venue.
Clearly more attacks have happened. Isn’t God listening? Has God quit? No, the terrorists are simply listening to a different god. The voices of hate in their minds are so loud that they cannot hear the still small voice of love telling them that they are wrong.
I can’t pretend to fully understand extremist psychology but taking people’s lives – including your own - because someone drew a mocking picture of your prophet, for example, is senseless.
Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar, whilst thanking people for #PrayForParis, told them ‘we don’t need more religion’, creating an alternative trend, ‘#ParisisaboutLife.’ He was initially misunderstood as being against prayer and religion, but later clarified that it was the combination of a flippant hashtag and ‘intimate’ spirituality he found ‘inappropriate’, not the call to prayer. Unsurprisingly, the trends continue, but at least the new #jesuislemonde (‘I am the world’) acknowledges worldwide suffering, rather than focusing on just one country.
Of course, people can post what they like on social media and altering your profile picture to show the flag of whichever afflicted country is in your thoughts and prayers – and the mainstream news - is a nice gesture that probably has genuine care behind it, unless you are just blindly following a trend.
Still, it won’t bring back the dead; it probably won’t comfort the afflicted if they even see it and it certainly won’t stop the terrorists. You’ll probably change your profile photo once the news has moved on, anyway. Writing an article like this won’t make much difference either, so it’s still somewhat selfish and superficial, except it makes me feel better for expressing my thoughts and hopefully provoking other people’s in a positive way.
I’m not saying we don’t really care but it’s the need to be seen to care that’s the issue, as if all our Facebook friends will think we’re heartless if we don’t react online to whatever recent tragedy filled the headlines of the news sources we choose to take in and are available to us.
I’m as guilty as anyone else, ignorant as I was of the many other atrocities occurring in the world between the Paris and Brussels attacks. Hundreds of terrorist acts have occurred in this time but I was only aware of a couple.
If we all posted our sorrow for every terrorist act that occurred in our world, let alone other tragedies like natural disasters or celebrity deaths, our profiles would be bursting with bad news and who wants to look at only that everyday? At least this would leave no room for selfies and meal pictures but these are what social media is for, right?
Still, we feel that we must react when we receive tragic news about other people, even if they are strangers to us and our online profiles are often the first places we do that. Those afflicted by the attacks in Paris, Brussels and Pakistan must see other people’s online reactions and, if my home city was the target of a terrorist attack – the UK terror threat level is still, terrifyingly, ‘Severe’ – then it would be some comfort to people from other countries showing their support. Donating to or volunteering with charities like Open Doors, which supports persecuted Christians, is more productive and beneficial.
For people of faith, like me, though, prayer is important, with or without a hashtag (preferably without). I struggled to find the words but we must remember that prayer is a conversation with God, so it cannot - or should not - be one-sided. We must listen to God as well as talk to God and when do speak, we could pray that the young Muslims who are drawn to radical Islam to fill whatever void in their lives it promises to fill - will learn to listen to the voice of unconditional love and not give in to unqualified hatred.
Image is courtesy of https://pixabay.com
Mark Sims lives in South Norfolk and works at Norwich Cathedral. He writes occasionally for Network Norwich and Norfolk on a variety of issues, usually focusing on the arts.
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