This week saw the tragedy of yet another mayor terrorist attack in Europe, in which at least 31 people are known to have been killed and many others injured. Newspaper and television reports across the Western world have understandably focused on this as their main story. Yet every day Islamic State’s latest killing spree in Iraq and Syria now goes largely unreported. Meanwhile the tragedy unleashed on Christians in northern Nigeria and the surrounding countries receives even less attention. The 2015 Global Terrorism Index which provides the most up to date information on terrorist deaths found that in the previous year 6,644 people were killed by Nigeria’s Boko Haram alone. The reality is that we are facing a new evil and the West is only slowly waking up to it. In 2000 there were 3,329 deaths from terrorism globally. By 2014, this had risen to 32,628, ten times what it was in 2000, with 2014 seeing an 80% increase on the previous year. Nearly 40% of these deaths are due to two terrorist groups, first Boko Haram and secondly, Islamic State.
Of course one of the reasons the Western media focus so much attention on terror attacks in countries such as Belgium is that they feel closer to us, we feel more threatened by them than by events in Syria or Nigeria. But despite the West’s relatively greater access to technological sophistication that does not mean that people in the West are better equipped to cope with terrorism than Christians in places such as Nigeria or Syria where it is a daily occurrence. There is a moral dimension to the fight against evil that the West urgently needs to recover and Easter is in many respects symbolic of it.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are of immense significance for many Christians who suffer persecution. Good Friday reminds us that God himself veiled his glory, coming to earth and living for most of his earthly life as an ordinary man, who too suffered abuse, hatred and ultimately a violent death. His self-sacrifice forms a pattern for us to follow.
The resurrection on Easter Sunday reminds us of that other amazing truth that death is not the end. He rose again as the first fruits of the resurrection of God’s people (1 Corinthians 15:20). Not only that, the resurrection also speaks of the reversal of all that is wrong in the world. It is the entrance into the New Jerusalem where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Instead we will see God face to face and be with him forever (Revelation 21:4ff). It is the resurrection that makes the difference in how Christians respond to violence. If there is a resurrection then there is hope, glorious hope of a better future.
That hope has had a profound impact on the cultures of many Western countries in the past. One has only to look around at the symbol of the cross on war memorials and other buildings to realise that it has inspired previous generations to follow the example of Christ in voluntarily sacrificing their own lives in a whole variety of ways for others, while for those who have lost loved ones it symbolises the glorious hope of the resurrection where there will be no suffering, crying or pain. It is this belief and hope in the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, however faintly held, that has strengthened previous generations to stand firm and make great sacrifices when they have had to fight against an evil ideology.
Today we face a similar fight against evil, one that seeks to commit genocide against Christians in locations such as Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, but also seeks by means of violence to intimidate the West into acceding to its demands for Islamic government and shari‘a enforcement. Yet today we need to ask whether with the decline in Christian belief, the West still has the moral strength to stand up and pay the cost of fighting against this evil.
From that follows two other questions. First, if people do not believe in the resurrection and so have no hope of a better life afterwards, for how long will they be prepared the pay the cost of confronting this evil?
Secondly, as we reflect on the Brussels terror attacks and pay our respects to the dead and injured, the question we must ask is not simply how do we confront this evil, but how do we recover the spiritual and moral resources to do so?