The Mistakes We Make When Tragedies Like Paris Happen   

The news from Paris last weekend was devastating. We pray in moments like these because we do not have answers, we cannot fix things ourselves and many wounds are beyond human healing.

But we have some bad habits in how we react to these horrific events. I’d like to point out some that can be especially counter-productive.

Let the media decide what is most important – Days prior to the terrorist attacks in Paris, another attack was carried out in Beirut. Beirut has been mired in violence for decades upon decades so of course that attack did not receive near the coverage of the attacks in Paris. We also still live with the reality that when it is caucasian Westerners, instead of Middle Easterners that are killed, that is always going to be the bigger story. It’s pointless to complain about the media’s coverage. It is our job instead, through prayer and education, to find all places where basic human rights are violated, because all lives matter equally as much.

Compare death tolls – If every life matters, it makes no difference how many are killed in such atrocities. If anything, counting how many are dead gives more power to the attackers, it fuels their fire and unquenchable thirst to “send a message.” One of the ways to resist terror is to disarm them of this power to dehumanize. We endeavor to treasure all life, and that directly fights their efforts to disregard all life under their twisted ideologies.

Paint with broad strokes – It’s common in the aftermath of an event like Paris for me to hear people say “Those Middle Easterners” or “Those Muslims.” There is no helpful way to finish that sentence because you have already started with an untruth. It’s clear that the global Islamic community has denounced the work of ISIS, and it’s equally clear that there are more victims in Iraq and Syria than there are members of the terrible group. Middle Easterners and Muslims are our neighbors, and God and Jesus Christ are calling us to love them.

Turn it into our agenda – One of the most difficult things for me to hear after a human tragedy like the events of the last week is when someone uses and abuses a tragedy like this to push their own, completely unrelated agenda. It didn’t take long after the shootings in Paris for American commentators to start talking about gun control here in the U.S. In the face of such death, there is a sacred vulnerability, and our human and Christian response needs to be to mourn and seek healing. I can think of very little to be more destructive than such agenda-pushing.

By praying to God in these tragedies, even if we are crying out to God saying “How long?” we are holding up high a light in the midst of terrible darkness, making a bold (and some would say, foolish) statement that even in the most dire circumstances, with our God, there is always hope. I also usually include a dangerous prayer in moments like these, “God help those who are hurting, and if I am called to be your help, give me the strength to serve.”

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