Where to look in the face of terror attacks

Westminster Bridge. Manchester Arena. London Bridge. Borough Market. The deaths and injuries those places have seen have moved our nation deeply.

And rightly so – the events that have unfolded in recent weeks are a stark reminder that our world is broken in the extreme. Evil is real, pain is close at hand and we are not immune to its horrific effects.

Those caught up in the attacks will feel the impact for weeks, months – maybe years. Witnessing trauma leaves its mark. They need our prayers, our love and the hope that the gospel brings to those who have tasted the excesses of sinful humanity and its dreadful plans.

But what about those of us who have witnessed the horrors on TV? Those of us whose engagement with terror comes through the lens of a news reporter or a tweet from a friend? How are we, as Christians, called to respond to events like these?

A quick trawl of social media shows most of us go in one of two directions. Some opt for fear, others defiance. Neither path should surprise us. Attacks are frightening. Vigilance is wise. A sense that evil will not ultimately prevail is a proper perspective on the mess we see. Justice will be done – in this life or the next.

But down either of these routes are dangers.

Fear can lead to inertia, people too scared to go out of their homes. A reluctance to engage or to risk getting hurt leads to a withdrawal from the world that flies in the face of the Christian call to follow a Saviour who sought and saved the lost. He ate with those on the edge of society. He loved those who hated him. We are called to do the same.

Defiance can lead to anger, and a self-protection that pushes other people away. It’s a stance that can view others as objects to be removed rather than image-bearers to be transformed. It closes doors to gospel conversations rather than flinging them open wide.

So, is there a better way?

Nearly 2000 years ago, the apostle Peter wrote to those scattered by persecution (1 Peter 1:1). Violence had led them to flee – their lives had been turned upside down by vicious men intent on destroying their way of life. His words?

Look back: There is so much for which to be thankful, even in the toughest of times. Life may be confusing but great mercies have been lavished on us all. A new birth, a living hope is ours because of Jesus’ work on the cross (1 Peter 1:3). His death and resurrection brought us into relationship with him – it has brought us the peace with God we truly need (1 Peter 1:2).

Look forward: These events may be horrific in the extreme but they won’t go on for ever. We have an inheritance waiting – a perfect home where terror attacks will be a thing of the past. Eternal joy awaits all those who truly trust in him (1 Peter 1:4-5).

Look up: The threat may be present, the fear may be real but life is not out of control. As we wait for his justice, God is using these trials to strengthen our faith – to refine us, grow us, make us ever more the people he is calling us to be – as we turn to him in the midst of our heart-break and pain (1 Peter 1:6-9).

Look in: These wonderful truths enable us to hear our calling in times of terror. A calling that is no different to God’s will for us in times of peace. We are to be holy, obedient children – not conforming to the evil desires that thrive around us but, rather, being profoundly counter-cultural in the midst of strife (1 Peter 1:13-17). Radical love, unbending trust, unswerving Christlikeness is the path he wants us to take.

Such perspectives are never easy. They cut against the grain of what goes on around us. But they are the lens through which believers are called to see the hurt.

So why not read 1 Peter 1 now? And pray in those glorious truths for yourself – and your church – today?

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”. (1 Peter 1:15-16)