Nous Sommes Paris!

Earlier this year in January the world, in solidarity with Paris, declared, “Je suis Charlie!”  Now and again our hearts go out to the city (and also with Russia).  This time the slogan of solidarity seems to be “Nous sommes Paris!”

I was angered by the cruel, cowardly slaughter of civilians by Islamic terrorists as were all of goodwill.  Like many, I was not surprised.  Whether Muslim, Rwandan,  Cambodian, or whoever the source — cruel, barbaric, and evil acts accompany too much of human behavior and history.

Not too many weeks ago, a patient of the clinic I work in (knowing I am a priest) referred to a terrorist attack in Pakistan and asked, “how can you even believe in God when such evil acts are allowed to take place?”  My reply consisted of two words:  free will.  Humans choose to act.  How we act is an exercise of free will.  Free will is a gift of God.  Free will is part of bearing the image God within us.  As God is free to act, so are we free to act.  Human free will is inviolate and, in a sense, absolute.  The patient’s reply was, “but God is supposed to be sovereign, omnipresent, and omnipotent!”  I acknowledged that this, too, is true.  God’s sovereignty is inviolate and absolute.  In the face of both truths we have a paradox.

As a human, I cannot understand God’s absolute sovereignty.  It is incomprehensible from my human perspective bound in space and time.  I will not begin a theodicy (defense of God’s actions in light of such evil).  Theodicy is a worthless exertion of energy.  However, I do have some experience and understanding of free will.  I exert it for good or for ill every day.  So did the members of the Islamic terrorist cell.  They chose evil and violence as they chose to serve their false god and religion given to them by a false prophet.

Then, in response to this dear patient, I pointed out that when people do good and act compassionately to relieve suffering and injury, do we thank God?  Typically, we praise those acting in love, courage, and compassion, and conveniently remove God from the cast of players.  We fail to acknowledge that God is in the midst of both the suffering and loss, as well in the midst of the healing and redemption.  And, conveniently, we fail to remember that God in the flesh suffered false judgment and  cruel execution by both Jew and Gentile — the humanity he came to reclaim to himself.  Even in this, God in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, acted in solidarity with humanity.

The French nation has both right and duty to root out evil and violent men and women as France rightly defends its citizens and its democracy.  The state wields the sword against criminals and enemies.  So does Russia and any other nation as it defends itself from attack by its enemies.

But those of faith are called by our Lord to act with another set of motives.  In solidarity we, as we are in Christ, say with the victims and a nation, “nous sommes Paris!”  Only from a distance can we enter into their healing and only by prayer.  When it comes down to the essential reality in Paris those tragedies are circumstances of neighbor and community.  We cannot directly bring healing to Paris.  But, in such solidarity, we can bring healing to our own neighbor, family, and friend — many times regardless of nationality or religion.  St. Paul speaks to the subject of solidarity:  “Do not repay evil for evil, but always seek the good both for one another and for all” (1 Thes 5: 15).  We must say together with the Apostle and every Parisian and Russian, “Amen!”

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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