Two gunmen walked into a French newspaper office and killed 12 people, injuring 11 others, in the name of their God and for his honor. They left the scene declaring their victory, calling out that they had avenged the prophet of God.
Vengeance was needed, you see, for this newspaper had dared to mock their prophet. They had drawn blasphemous cartoons that portrayed Mohammed in a disrespectful manner. Such sacrilege could not be tolerated. The honor of their God and his prophet was at stake.
If you follow the news you already know about all of this, and you’ve seen how some have responded. Some are eager to point out that this is exactly what we can expect from the religion of Islam, that it is, at its heart, a violent religion. Some are trying to be political and claiming the the religion has nothing to do with it, that’s it’s the isolated actions of unhinged extremists. Some stand alongside the cartoonists, voicing support for everyone’s right to Some simply blame the people at Charlie Hebdo (the French newspaper, ICYMI), saying they brought it on themselves and should have known better.
And what is our response? Do we stand with the tolerant, cautiously reminding everyone that most Muslims are very peaceful and that you can’t judge a whole religion based on the actions of a few? Do we stand with the religious, calling out Islam for the violent religion it is and calling upon God and the great forces of the world to finally mete out justice? Do we stand with the scoffers, clinging to the right to free speech and mockery? Do we stand with the stoics, shrugging our shoulders at the consequences of making choices in a sin-fraught world? Is there anywhere else to stand? In the heat of battle, it hardly seems so.
There is a way to look at all this, though, that helps us ferret through the nonsense and actually find the right place to be. That way of looking at this can be summarized by a simple question, “What honors God?” Maybe we could even expand that question into, “What testifies to the truth, gives glory to God, and promotes the Gospel?”
Does taking sides against Islam testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? At first glance we might say “yes!” because after all, Islam stands in opposition to the Gospel, does not give Jesus the glory he deserves as the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity, and is not based on the truth of God’s Word. But isn’t there a difference between shouting “Islam is a violent and demonic religion! We need to wipe the Muslims out!” and “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”? Certainly, there’s a place for standing against falsehood, but if you don’t follow that with the truth, then all you’ve done is told people what you’re against. They’re no better off.
Does taking sides for Islam testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? Believe it or not, there are some Christians who would say “yes!” In the eyes of the world, it seems very loving to say that the Muslim world as a whole is not evil, that those people are our fellow citizens on this earth, and that we need to love and respect them. And wasn’t it Jesus who said not to judge? But the problem here is that if we’re going to honor the true God, we can’t pretend that he loves the religion of Islam. He loves Muslims, yes, but his loving desire is that they come out of Islam, not be supported in it.
Does taking sides with the scoffers testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? I had a conversation with my associate, Tim Smith, this morning about this whole event. “There’s a certain Voltairian mentality,” he said, “that everything – and especially religion – is worth mocking. But the problem with mockery is that it doesn’t help anyone, and it can quite literally get you murdered.” As we talked, we noted that the deeper problem with mockery is that it does nothing to promote the Gospel. I’m not against free speech, but if the line we hold is that there is nothing wrong with mocking Islam, then we’re also holding the line that there’s nothing wrong with mocking Jesus. Maybe we can all agree that Jesus is still God, no matter who mocks him. But do we want to stand with the people who want to mock him?
Does taking sides with the stoics testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? Going back to Tim’s comment, it is true that when you strike at people who will literally kill for their religion, you’re taking your life in your own hands. We’ve seen enough incidents of repercussion for those who criticize Islam that anyone ought to know better at this point. But with this stance comes a certain sort of apathy, doesn’t it? Do we risk forgetting that these were people, with spouses and children and siblings and parents? When I first heard about the incident, my heart sank. I thought about the families whose lives will be forever changed because of this. And it isn’t the same as a soldier or police officer or fireman losing his life; their families learn to accept a certain level of anticipation that any day they could lose their loved one. A newspaper editor doesn’t say goodbye to his family every morning expecting that it might be the last time. Our love for God inspires us to love others, and in love for others, I think we can see that no matter how much they might have brought it on themselves, it is still terrible and grieving that it happened.
Okay, so we can establish that the various responses we’ve seen from the majority of people in the public eye aren’t necessarily responses we would adopt wholesale. So how do we respond? How do we adopt a stance that really does testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel.
I saw this really intriguing comic by Adam4d:
I have to say, he hit the nail on the head when it comes to the disparity that exists between Christianity and Islam. Most Muslims may be very peaceful, but we have to acknowledge that when people take the Quran literally and seriously, the most committed and radical adherents will take up arms and literally engage in holy war. The Quran calls them to do so. Christianity, on the other hand, calls us to be willing to sacrifice everything – up to and including our own lives – for the sake of the Gospel. It never calls on Christians to wage physical war against unbelievers to advance the cause of the Gospel, and throughout history those who have done so in the name of Christ are falsely claiming the name of Christ.
(Note: This is where people will almost always pull out the Old Testament directives God gave to his people to go to war on particular nations. I could spend hours writing about why God directed his people in those ways at those times, but I think the most compelling point to make related to that is that he gave a specific nation specific directions in a specific historical context. These were not open-ended directives to all believers for all time, but limited divine judgments. It’s further interesting to note that God also used foreign nations against Israel at times to discipline them for their idolatry as a nation. In other words, God wasn’t just playing favorites. False religion has always been a problem for him, no matter who engages in it.)
Going back to Adam4d’s comic, I think it actually addresses our question from before. How do I honor God in response to the Charlie Hebdo incident? God calls us to be willing to lay everything on the line for the sake of the Gospel. Yes, that includes my life, if necessary. But think of that as up to and including my life, which then encompasses being ready to let go of everything else as well. See, out of those four main responses we’ve seen, the one I’ve seen from other Christians far and above all the others is to point out that Islam is not a religion of peace, and should be called out for its violence, and on top of that, we’re American and we believe in free speech, and there should be nothing wrong with poking fun at Islam, because it isn’t true anyway. But if I’m called to lay down everything for the sake of the Gospel, doesn’t that include laying down my “right” to be scornful of other religions? Once again, isn’t there a difference between mocking a false religion and preaching the Gospel?
Shouldn’t I be ready to let go of anything else as well? Like letting go of my self-righteous criticism of others, so that my hypocrisy doesn’t get in the way of my preaching of the Gospel. Like letting go of my need to be liked by being relevant and political, so that my tolerance and relativism doesn’t get in the way of my preaching the Gospel. Like letting go of my mockery of others in the name of free speech, so that my arrogance doesn’t get in the way of my preaching the Gospel. Like letting go of my blasé, karmic approach to life, so that my apathy doesn’t get in the way of my preaching of the Gospel.
In the end, that’s the real answer to the question. How do I testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? By saying what is true: Jesus, the Savior from sin, is the only true peacemaker between God and man. No other religious philosophy preaches or achieves true peace. By giving glory to God: Jesus said that when we honor him, we honor the Father (John 5:22-23). Jesus is the true God and the only Savior. By promoting the Gospel: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). The question is the answer. Nothing else matters. We do this when we respond to this incident with compassion for the victims, with boldness for the truth, and with a clear message of our own hope. Let everything else go, and lay it on the line for the Gospel.