It is a double tragedy that a terrorist attacked the British Parliament today. Terrorism is an attack on our national life, an utter rejection of democracy, so when a terrorist targets Parliament itself, we feel a national sense of violation, laden with symbolism.This is not the first terror attack on the Palace of Westminster. In 1979, Abingdon MP Airey Neave was blown up in his car just a few yards from the scene of today’s attack, and earlier in the 1970s the IRA planted a bomb in a doorway of Westminster Hall near the statue of Oliver Cromwell.
As we come to the end of such a tragic day, what is the Christian response to a terrorist attack on our country? Here are some of my thoughts.
- Weep with those who weep. An officer ran towards danger for the sake of others, and will not be coming home tonight. Weep for his family, and for every Policeman’s family who wait to see what condition their loved one comes home in at the end of a shift. (The latest post on the Police Commander blog is more than poignant today.) Weep for the families of the other victims, including those who sit at the bedsides of the wounded in St Thomas’s and Guys hospitals. But do not weep in the pagan way, as though lighting candles and laying flowers will somehow placate unknown gods. Weep for these families before the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, and remember that our heavenly Father knows what it means to be bereft, as he was on Good Friday.
- Give thanks for common grace. God in his common grace restrains evil, and has stamped his image on all humankind. The best of that image was seen today, in the acts of passers-by who ran to help the injured on Westminster Bridge rather than standing to film the scene of their phones; in the actions of Tobias Ellwood MP in trying to resuscitate the injured police officer; in the response of police and paramedics, who treated victims and assailant alike and poured all their efforts into a calm and committed response to all in need; in the skill of the hospital staff who swung into action with their emergency plans; in a hundred other stories yet to be told over the next few days. If you are chatting to a police officer or paramedic tomorrow, thank them for all they do. I have a nephew who is a policeman, and a niece training as a paramedic. I am in awe of what they do. This is not just humanity in action. It is humanity made in the image of God, which marks us out from any other creature on God’s earth. We are reflecting the image of a compassionate and gracious God, who has imprinted his justice and righteousness on our consciences. Life without common grace is called hell, so give thanks for that vast bulwark of common grace that overcomes evil with good in these situations.
- Pray for those in authority. For those of us who do not follow a liturgy in our churches, this is often lacking. We pray for our church and ourselves, and the unsaved of our community, but how often do our Baptist and independent churches pray for those in authority? 1 Tim. 2:1-2 should shape our prayers on a much more regular basis. So much of our spiritual life is framed in an individualistic worldview, and as non-conformists we have too little public theology to shape our thinking and our prayers, compared to our brothers and sisters in the established churches of England and Scotland. We are good at protesting and fighting culture wars, but how often do we pray for our MPs, for the Government, for those who run the legal system, and those who protect our security?
- Cherish the rule of law. This was an attack on Parliament, surrounded as it is with the symbols of all it stands for: the statues of Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill, and the monument to William Wilberforce, which are all grouped around Parliament, remind us of those who valued Parliamentary democracy, and who used it to legislate to achieve their goals. Parliament is the best bastion against tyranny, a Parliament that cherishes its legal inheritance, that does not make law on the hoof in ill-advised ways, but that values the rights and duties of government built up over centuries. Britain’s Parliament is old, as is its building and its strange rituals and customs. We shouldn’t sneer at that, as though everything has to be new and utilitarian. The ceremony and the architecture remind us that our system is built on long established principles: that government is by consent and must be held accountable to Parliament, that laws must be properly scrutinised by two houses of Parliament, and that these laws must be tested and applied in independent courts, where everyone has the right to be fairly represented and to answer in their own defence, that ‘to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny, or delay right or justice’, these values are the heart of our Parliamentary system of government. Today of all days is the day to affirm them. It is also important to remember that they flow from God’s Word, as the outworking of such biblical passages as Psalms 89 and 101, Romans 13, and so much of the Book of Proverbs.
- Love your Muslim friend. If you speak to a Muslim tomorrow, show them love. Plenty of racist people will show them hate. We should not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. This is a moment for Christians to show grace, to listen, and perhaps hear the unsettling thoughts of our Muslim friends as they wonder where Islam is going. Evil has been perpetrated in the name of every religion, including atheism, and certainly in the name of Christianity against Islam. Whenever Islamic extremism leads to suicide terror attacks, the most powerful antidote to that is the love of genuine Christians for their Muslim friends.
- Love your enemies. I spent my breakfast today listening to Baroness Eileen Paisley, widow of the late Ian Paisley, describing her friendship with former IRA terrorist turned politician Martin McGuinness. She had plenty of reason to hate him, but she lived out the gospel in that conversation in a truly brilliant way. In Northern Ireland Christians learned to love their enemies, to govern together in spite of their most violent disagreements. It is a remarkable conversation. She described the pain of both sides, pointing out that ‘our tears are the same colour’ and that even the apostle Paul had been a terrorist of sorts in persecuting Christians, but even he could be converted. How wonderful to think that those caught up in Islamist terrorist gangs and plots could yet be transformed by God’s power to be messengers of grace. Do not hate today, however deep your grief may be. Pray for young men and women across the world that get caught up in the lies of the terrorist’s worldview, and pray that they may be delivered from a great evil by the gospel of redeeming grace in Christ, and become instruments for his glory.
- Be ready to meet God. Another day it may be us walking in a public place, or riding the tube, or sitting on a plane, or running to protect others. Life can be snuffed out in a brutal moment. Beyond death is the reality of God in all his eternal justice. Therefore, today is the day of salvation, the day to trust alone in Christ and not ourselves, and to fix our faith firmly on the hope that no terrorist can shake. have you done that? Are you ready? And if we have already trusted in Christ, are we as Christians keeping short accounts with God? Are we ready for that unexpected day when he calls for us? None of us knows what a day will bring.