Dealing with IS
They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:31, NIV 1984)
In the aftermath of the atrocities in Paris last week, much attention is rightly being given to the practical question of how to deal with Islamist terrorism. The Bible can give us a steer.
First, we need to recognise the reality of human depravity. People really can be heartless and ruthless, as this extract from Paul’s letter to the Romans puts it - and who would not use such words to describe those who perpetrated these dreadful acts? Facing up to this will keep us from the naivety of liberal humanism: imagining that if we are just nice to people, the problem will go away. Later in the same letter, this same understanding of human nature undergirds Paul’s apologia for the state: rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4). Appropriate military force may be necessary.
Second, we need to critique the ideology that lies behind this. For these killings were ideologically driven. Islamist groups are not tied together by shared leadership, but a shared set of beliefs. That is why, even if IS were to be defeated militarily, other groups would spring up, like a many-headed hydra. It is by means of an ideology that ordinary people are turned into killers.
Western governments have recognised this to some extent, rightly being nervous about schools where this ideology might be taught, and legislating to ban “hate speech.” But they have failed to face the underlying issue of the nature of the teaching which motivates people to hate in this way. In Romans, Paul traces the heartlessness and ruthlessness back to the way people have exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25). Islamist terrorism is founded on an ideology which, at base, is a set of lies in what it claims about God. This is the root from which these dreadful consequences follow.
Ultimately, then, if this kind of terrorism is to be defeated, the lies need to be exposed. We need in a civilised way (without a hint of hate or hurt to anyone) to be able to discuss publicly what evidence there is that a particular religion is true; we need to be able to point out openly where in a religion certain behaviours find their source.
My fear is that, in a right concern to maintain community cohesion, Western governments seek to suppress such conversation. They are in danger of making it harder for people to explain and critique the theology that lies behind the killings, for fear that they might themselves be deemed guilty of “hate speech”. But this protects the lies, and allows them to spread.
Thirdly, we need to do all we can to make the gospel known. In Romans, this is the real God’s true and only answer to the question of how to be accepted by Him - the question Islamists try to solve themselves, in their twisted and desperate way. It is through the saving death of the Lord Jesus Christ, who rose again and transforms us by His Spirit.
Because the money given in our recent Gift Day appeal exceeded the total we were praying for, we were able not only to support refugees in Syria, but to meet some expenses of a Christian worker who is telling the gospel to the people of northern Iraq. He is only 50 miles from IS’s front line.
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