A few days ago there was a murderous rampage by members of the terrorist group ISIS on the streets of Paris. In light of such horrific events, and in their wake of the emotional trauma and fear, I’m left wondering what the Christian faith has to offer at times like these. Distance removes most of us from the victims, and takes us out of orbit to their pain. Few of the people reading this, if any, will have a role in directly comforting the victims, their families and loved ones. But you don’t need to be a Christian to comfort the afflicted. You just need to be a decent human being. So what does Christ-like faith have to offer the world at at time like this? Three thoughts come to mind:
- Trans-formative Justice. The work of the prophets is to call the nations of Israel and Judah to justice. Life in the ancient world was lived under the tremendous burdens of empire. Taxation was oppressive and political and economic systems were designed to keep the poor trapped in horrific poverty while the wealthy reaped the benefits of exploitation. There was no middle class in the ancient world; there were only the incredibly wealthy and the victims who supported their wealthy lifestyle. The Christian faith, at its core, calls for a radical reevaluation of how we live. To live with justice as per the ethos of the prophets and of Jesus Christ is to radically change the way we interact with others, bringing freedom from oppression, corruption and crushing poverty – the very conditions which radical fundamentalism needs to thrive.
- The Incarnation. One of the foundations of Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is divine, and that he took on human form. Jesus being clothed in humanity is known as “The Incarnation.” The reason why our efforts in the middle east (and elsewhere) have failed so spectacularly, and continue to fail, and will continue to fail, is because we operate from the basis of empire to conquered people, and our work in the world suffers from colonialism and ethnocentrism. We operate from the perspective that if failing nation states are going be successful, they’re going to be like us,thus perpetuating the evils of our world. If we are to truly follow the way of Christ we are to become embedded in the culture of those we care about. If we are to follow the way of Christ we become a part of the social, cultural, political and economic lives of our friends. We can only effect positive change in the world, particularly in the middle east, from within the body of the ‘other’.
- Self-sacrificial Service. If we are to take the words of Matthew’s Gospel at face value, then we cannot help but acknowledge that Jesus “…came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Clearly, Jesus operated from a position of powerlessness, but the objective of his philosophy was to be a ransom – a rescue or redemption – for others. The Christian faith, as lived by it’s most noble practitioners, brings rescue or redemption to those enslaved, oppressed and to those denied hope. It takes a particular depth of faith to live with justice when we realize that we are the oppressor. The authentic voice of faith does not ask “How can I make you like me?” but rather, “How can I help you reach your full potential?”
I’m not naive enough to realize that we can live in a world without armies, and that our history will not continue to be blood-soaked and violent. But the Christian faith, contrary to popular belief and popular practice, is a radical, revolutionary call to live with justice and mercy, and offers the world compassion, redemption and hope. What Christian faith offers the world is the hope that this world, here and now, can be a better place and a vision for how we might get there.