November 18, 2017

A Lament for Lahore’s Children

Lahore Bombing 1

Today we weep for Lahore, her children and families, and all who love peace.

The Easter bombing of a playground in Lahore, Pakistan has brought the subject of Christian persecution to the forefront of the world’s attention, because the group responsible for it claimed that they were targeting Christians. The horrific attack is one more event in an increasing tide of persecution faced by those who follow Christ. This from a CNN report in January:

Last year was the most violent for Christians in modern history, rising to “a level akin to ethnic cleansing,” according to a new report by Open Doors USA, a watchdog group that advocates for Christians.

In total, the survey found that more than 7,100 Christians were killed in 2015 for “faith-related reasons,” up 3,000 from the previous year, according to the group’s analysis of media reports and other public information as well as external experts. Open Door’s report is independently audited by the International Institute of Religious Freedom.

The group’s report defines Christian persecution “as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ.” Open Doors found this persecution ranged from imprisonment, torture, beheadings and rape to the loss of home and assets, the loss of a job, or even rejection from a community.

These deadly Easter attacks serve as another reminder of the costs Christians are paying around the world to follow Jesus, especially in areas where Islamic extremism is prevalent. In an article that gives an overview of the history and current state of persecution against Christians in Pakistan, Kathy Gannon of the AP says:

In predominantly Christian neighborhoods, radical Muslims have carried out attacks based on trumped-up charges of blasphemy, which is punishable by death. Christians are routinely accused by radical Muslims of trying to undermine Pakistan as an Islamic state. There have been reports of forced conversions of Christian girls. In January, a girl was killed and two were injured when they refused the advances of three Muslim men, who ran them over upon learning they were Christian. An Islamabad-based think tank, The Jinnah Institute, called the violence “some of the worst mob attacks against minority communities in Pakistan.” Christian neighborhoods in Punjab and Islamabad “have seen mass attacks fueled by hate speech. These attacks have led to widespread destruction of homes and properties,” he said.

It must be said, however, that the Christian angle should not be overplayed. Though the group claiming responsibility said they were targeting Christians, the majority of those who died were Muslims. If we are going to respond truly as Christian people, we must weep for our Muslim neighbors as well as for the Christ-followers who perished.

We have not focused our attention on writing about persecution much on Internet Monk, and there is a simple reason.

I don’t know what to say. That’s the God’s-honest truth. These kinds of tragedies leave me speechless.

But as I have thought about this subject, and particularly this attack on Easter, I knew I must write something about it.

I concluded that the one appropriate response at this time is for me to practice lament.

Let us express our anger, our frustration, our sense of helplessness, our profound sorrow and grief to God. As Walter Brueggemann writes, “The lament psalm is a Jewish refusal of silence before God. This Jewish refusal of silence is not cultural, sociological, or psychological, but it is in the end, theological. It is a Jewish understanding that an adequate relationship with God permits and requires a human voice that will speak out against every wrong perpetrated either on earth or by heaven.”

For these things I weep;
    my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
    one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
    for the enemy has prevailed.

(Lamentations 1:16)

It is time we lift our voice in honest prayer to God.

Lahore Bombing 2

No, not there Lord!
Anywhere but there!
Anywhere but in a park with children playing, laughing, running free!

They should be free…
Lord, shouldn’t they be free?
Free and never afraid of such darkness?
Free to show their moms and dads how big and grown up they are?
Big enough to swing, to ride the carousel, to turn a cartwheel
and brush the tousled hair from their eyes?

They are not big enough for this
(Is anyone?)
For blood and body parts and shattered eardrums
For dust and chaos, tears and wide-eyed panic
For black terror like Friday noon to fall on Easter Sunday?

Though you have bid them come,
it is not right that they should come to you like this, Lord.
Not like this.
Never like this!

And we feel helpless.
We have no one to curse.
We cannot look him in the eye,
the stupid coward who blew himself to bits.
What can possibly bring “justice” in a case like this?
God, we are fed up, and we have no idea what to do.

And where are you?
We demand to know!
Of all days, the day when you broke the power of death!
Of all days, when every surprising appearance brought joy and gladness!
Of all days, when you laid aside the graveclothes and walked free,

Why couldn’t they play free?

Comments

  1. …Jesus wept…

  2. Christiane says:

    “And where are You?”
    We ask of God, this.

    This agonizing question reminds me of a line from an account of the hanging of a child in Buchenwald by the Nazis . . . written by Elie Weisel who was forced to witness it:

    ““Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out,
    swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…
    And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.
    And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still
    red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
    Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
    “For God’s sake, where is God?”
    And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
    “Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…” (from ‘Night’, Elie Wiesel)

    Flannery O’Connor once wrote “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

    We are forced to be witnesses to the suffering of innocence.
    To this, we are given no answers but one: Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead. It’s all we can know for now.

    • Yes.

      Either suffering is inevitable, or God does not exist. Those are the only two options available to me.

    • Robert F says:

      There are no adequate theological answers, that is to say, there are no adequate human answers, to the questions asked in this lament. Experience of innocent suffering, like the slaughter of these children at play (the play of children is a holy thing, perhaps the holiest thing of all), makes nonsense of all the answers that have been proffered down the centuries, including the answer that children are in some theological sense not innocent.

      Only God can answer these questions, and his only reply is Jesus Christ. Is that answer adequate? I must confess that I don’t know; I keep waiting and looking for something more. Haven’t we, from the beginning, just taken that reply and translated it into more inadequate human theology?

      • To me, the idea that Jesus is God’s answer to suffering doesn’t seem like much of an answer.

    • I wonder, what does that mean exactly, that ‘God is [there], hanging from the gallows.’ The idea that Jesus is God’s answer to suffering doesn’t seem like much of an answer.

      • I think I Just said the same thing twice

      • It’s a form of comfort, I guess. Through Jesus, we know God hates the suffering and the death and the violence. He wants us to love each other and help each other and stand up for each other. Through Jesus, we hear God saying “yeah…it does suck, I know; let’s do what we can to make all our lives better, and over time, the Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven”.

        Where we run into problems with that is the idea that God is so omnipotent that he could stop it, and chooses not to. That may not be true. And probably wasn’t what people thought at the time, or arguably throughout the entire timeline the Bible covers.

        Through Jesus, God weeps with us. Through Jesus, God provides a way to mitigate suffering and improve this world. Through Jesus, God reputes all evil that was ever done in his name. Or will be done. Which is why for many, Jesus must be the final word.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          It means God doesn’t exempt Himself from the effects of brutality, injustice, greed, corruption, or fear

          He is guilty for having created a cosmos where such things are possible, and He got what was coming to Him.

        • Danielle says:

          It provides no answer, but I think Neil Gaiman gets close to something important with this quote,

          “I really don’t know what “I love you” means. I think it means “Don’t leave me here alone.”

          There is, in Christ, a surprising affirmation that seems more important and mysterious than an “answer”: there is not a place where God has not ventured.

          The greatest fear is that it should somehow be possible slip away – or worse, to find out most of the world were covered in – a place where God could not go, or did not want to go.

          • Danielle says:

            edit (my phone is not cooperating):

            “To me, the greatest fear is that it should somehow be possible slip away to – or worse, to find out most of the world were covered in – a darkness where God could not go, or did not want to go.”

  3. The only answer I have is to Pray – Pray for the Terrorists, just as Jesus instructed us to pray for those who persecute us. Pray that their hearts and minds be turned from darkness & violence and filled instead with the. love and light of G-d, and for his creation & creatures.

    • Robert F says:

      We’re not very good, as a church, at praying for our enemies. That might be because it’s hard for us to admit that we have enemies. Even though we’re not good at it, we should do it; perhaps we should do it all the more exactly because we’re not good at it.

  4. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

  5. Clay Crouch says:

    It would be helpful to explore religious persecution of and by the Church. Our history is long and dark in regards to persecution. I’m concerned that movies such as God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2 are redefining and even dumbing down the nature of persecution for a large segment of evangelical christians.

    • The history may be long and dark but nothing compared to World War 1&2, Stalin, Mao, pol, ect. Your first sentence seems to say that past events justify current events. It’s all about living in a fallen world where Christ and his cross are needed.

      • …is this comment an equivalent to saying “All Lives Matter”?

        Perhaps it’s time the church started owning it’s part in those things you mentioned. WW2 especially was no ‘secular’, liberal, atheist war. Oh no, it was very theological, very Christian driven.

        I’ve long thought it’s better to be the conservative in a group of liberals than to be the liberal in a group of conservatives. The former you have an opportunity to learn and grow…the latter group tends to hate like no other.

        • I’d be curious to hear what you think Christianity’s role in WWII is. I don’t doubt that it may have played some role, but to call the whole war “very theological” and “very Christian driven” seems a bit much.

          • Matt, I agree with you and would also like to hear from Stuart on the question. It isn’t liberal or conservative. That war had to do with stopping an evil in the form of Hitler. Definitely not theological.But the liberal response does not surprise me.

          • For starters – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany

            This isn’t a topic I’m an expert on. But there seems plenty of evidence that a lot of Nazism arose out of their particular brand of Christianity.

            I mostly bring this up to counter the kneejerk claim of “but ‘atheists/secularists’ committed bigger atrocities than the Crusades/Inquisition/Troubles/etc!” Been there, done that, told the same lies myself for decades. It’s simply, not, true.

            Not sure what “liberal response” didn’t surprise you tho, lol. What liberal response?

          • After reading through the Wiki page, I’m afraid that I don’t see all that much evidence that the Nazis or Nazism itself is all that Christian, or even particularly arouse out of Christianity. Certainly elements of Nazism, especially it’s anti-Antisemitism, has roots in Martin Luther’s anti-Antisemitism, but Nazism (and Hitlers thinking) was also largely influenced by Communism, Fascism, Social Darwinism, and Nietzsche; schools of thought that are often explicitly anti-religious or anti-Christian. Christian may have contributed to Nazism, but so did a lot of other things which seem more influential on Nazisms thought and actions. For sure, the Church was often complicit, and should have done more to resist, but it seems overly simplistic to place such a large portion of blame for Nazism, and thus WWII, on Christianity.

        • turnsalso says:

          “All Lives Matter”

          Too many people say this as a thought-terminating cliché. What I never hear is anyone saying “your life matters” to anyone else. Likewise, “we live in a fallen world” all too often comes with an implicit “so be quiet.”

        • Calling WWII “very Christian driven” is a bit of a stretch in my view. Sure Christianity and religion in general were ingredients in the soup, along with political ideas, racial prejudices, cultural differences, economic stresses, and the popular ascendency of “Us vs. Them” mentalities. The decline of imperial states and the emergence of modern nation states were also major factors in both WWI and WWII. Though it’s a tedious, exhaustive read, I would recommend Niall Ferguson’s “The War of the World.” That book really gave me a sense of how damned complicated those wars and the events leading up to them really were. Before that, I had no idea how many political, cultural, religious, and national subplots were moving underneath what we tend to think of as the major movements of Naziism, Communism, and Democracy. And I had no idea that there were so many different groups of people committing atrocities against other groups of people for such a wide variety of reasons. Ferguson does a good job of showing how these groups turned on each other when the imperial forces and institutions that had formerly kept them in relative peace broke down. In his book “Jews, God, and History,” Max Dimont provides an interesting historical explanation of how antisemitism evolved from the general anit-Jewishness of medieval Europe.
          While he sometimes played off sentiments of Germany’s Christian majority when it suited his purposes, Hitler himself didn’t think much of Christianity as a religion. In “My Struggle” he wrote that Christianity would eventually die of natural causes in his planed 1,000-year reich. And he certainly didn’t hesitate when it came to killing millions of Christian Poles.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Your first sentence seems to say that past events justify current events.

        I don’t how you could infer such cynicism from my comment. Would you agree that if we don’t study and learn from our history as persecutor and persecuted then we certainly will continue to repeat the tragedies experienced in the past?

    • That might be the case if we were talking about the church in the west/developed nations where Christianity is the dominant religion and sometimes mixed in an almost syncretistic manner with politics. But the fact is that the church in countries like Pakistan has little influence and power to use in persecuting anyone, so it really doesn’t happen.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        I’m suggesting that we look at both sides of persecution here in America. You are right that so much of Christianity in this country is inseparable from power politics.

  6. Lord hear our prayer.

  7. They’re reading names out over the radio
    All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know
    Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Breda
    Their lives are bigger than any big idea

    Jesus can you take the time
    To throw a drowning man a line
    Peace on Earth
    To tell the ones who hear no sound
    Whose sons are living in the ground
    Peace on Earth
    Jesus sing a song you wrote
    The words are sticking in my throat
    Peace on Earth
    Hear it every Christmas time
    But hope and history won’t rhyme
    So what’s it worth
    This peace on Earth

    Peace on Earth

  8. Fifteen hundred years ago it was Christians doing this. To each other. They didn’t have today’s technology but if they had, they would have used it. The mentality was very much the same as what we see today. Tribal thinking, shame and honor based values, intense loyalty to fundamentalist understandings of religion, religious leaders leading the wars and uneducated masses only too happy to go into literal battle, including monasteries who often acted as thugs and militias. These weren’t debates, there were massacres, heads were cut off and proudly displayed. These were Christians, not some offbeat fringe group, the best that was available. Ignorant, violent, sub-human, this was us.

    It went on for a very long time and only subsided as the eastern and southern part of Christendom was eradicated. There are remnants today that continue to take the hit as in today’s post. Islam played its part but they weren’t even around when this got going over interpretations of what seem today like minor points of theological disagreement and interpretation. It went on for a thousand years until the Reformation opened a new chapter in war and violence. Damaris posted a video a couple days ago of fresh-faced Serbian children, beautiful, innocent children such as were killed in that park. Serbs, the folks who in recent memory committed the most horrendous war crimes and genocide against their neighbors in European history since Hitler and Stalin. Lord have mercy!

    Where does this end? Supposedly when the children of God are revealed and heal all of Creation. I would say that so far we don’t seem to have gotten this quite right. I do believe that this is where we are heading even as the horror escalates. And things are escalating, both good and bad at the same time. It’s harder to see the good, but it’s there and we can be part of it.

    Yes, lend a hand if given opportunity, but to my mind the most effective means of tipping the balance for good lies in individual effort to rise above demands of ego and embody the mind of Christ, which is located not in the head but in the heart. This might seem like a cop out to some. I believe it is our main assignment as Christians, indeed why we are here, and the results make a tangible difference, if mostly unseen. Unitive prayer is not some psychological palliative to make you feel more comfortable, it is joining into battle against these forces of darkness using the weapons that our Lord used for victory as he was tortured to death in his body. This isn’t easy. It needs doing and we are the only ones who can do it. Human beings, with God’s help. That’s us.

    Please remember Robert F and his good wife, who undergoes surgery today, send a blessing and prayer of healing their way, as well as for all the children of the world.

    • Amen.

    • Christiane says:

      CHARLES writes, “Where does this end?”

      and I think of a poem by the step-daughter of a dear friend that ends with these words:

      “Let me stop being that thing against which anything, everything, can break.”

    • Monks, it turns out, are significant. I agree with you Charles. One in being is where things begin to take shape. For this the Spirit longs.

  9. Thank you for posting this. This is the country I was born and raised in and where may parents worked as missionaries for more than 40 years. It has changed greatly since I lived there and is a source of ongoing sadness. But also, and important, is the fact that the impetus to follow Jesus is increasing as the radicalism and terrorism ramp up. There is significant disillusion with radical Islam and people are turning to Christ because of it. Also important to keep in mind is that the extremists although increasing remain a minority. Most Pakistanis are moderate in their thinking and want the same thing for themselves and their families as any of us do.

    • Thanks, John. I have seen scattered reports of Muslims turning to Christ out of this dreadful season, but have not heard much about it.

  10. Tuesday seven killed in Baghdad.
    Easter Sunday seventy in Lahore.
    The Friday prior forty one at a soccer game in Iraq.
    Brussels. Paris. Istanbul…… Refugees. Innocents in war. Starvation.
    We can’t help but live in a constant intertwining of joy and lament lest we lose one or the other. We can’t forget the poor and the suffering and we can’t lose the joy of our salvation, who is Christ the Lord, because it is his mercy we have to offer. It’s calls for a big awareness; a wide consciousness and a soft heart.

  11. Along the same topic, today was the verdict of the shooting in Minneapolis.

    I don’t know what is going to happen. The whole thing is tragic. The response today equally so.

    Not sure how much traveling I’ll do next few days.

  12. Forgive me as I am not a regular poster, but a lurker. This really resonates with me. I am a Christian, but struggle with shy God allows this to go on.Bear with my ramblings on this.

    I come back to a few things when it comes to violence and sin in the world.

    First, Christ crucified and risen.

    Second, sometimes I wonder if Jesus wants to see if we will really pray for our enemies and forgive them like He did.

    Third, I sometimes wonder if He wants to see us put our belief in action. Tired of abortion, well, take in the pregnant woman until she gives birth and then adopt the child or give the woman a head start/help after the birth.
    Easier said then done. What if she is a druggie/criminal/crazy? Too risky. IOW, many of us, starting with me and I am not judging anyone, but me, need to put our money and possessions where our faith is. I think God/Jesus allows this worldly trouble to see who he is going to stand up. Heck, if just a few people had been willing to die early on Nazism/Hitler could have been stopped. The problem is most of us look out for number one.

    Imagine if that was Jesus’ attitude. No cross. No salvation.

    Fourth, I know it was only a movie, but I think of what Gandalf told Pippin about worrying about dying. He said something about death not being the end. We are right to be angry and cry over these children, but let us remember that God has them in His care now and I don’t want to hear any closet NeoCals pr Calvinists tell me otherwise about children not being saved and yes I heard some over the years talk about some children saved and others not. Therefore, let us rejoice that these kids are with God almighty in a better place, running around and having fun, no not just worshipping Him 24/7, so to speak.

    I know this doesn’t make it any easier on the families/friends/or us. I am just at a point in my walk with Him where I am trying to figure out why children are blown up or molested and the usual line about for His glory isn’t cutting it anymore, neither is Romans stating all things work for good. I need context.

    Sorry if this went a little long.

  13. Christiane says:

    Prayers for Robert F and his wife who is having surgery today. God be merciful.