Paris, Syria and living out of fear

Published 12:11 pm Saturday, November 21, 2015

The goal of terrorists is to create fear. While different terrorist groups have different objectives and goals, they share the same method: instill fear in people with the goal of causing us to act in ways that will, eventually, line up with their goals. The terrorist attacks last week in Paris were no different — they were designed not only to kill those who were targeted, but they were also launched in the hopes of instilling fear in you and I and causing us to react out of fear. ISIS (the group claiming responsibility for the attacks) has actually made clear what they hope that fear will accomplish. After an attack on a Paris magazine in January they stated that their goal was to “compel the Crusaders (westerners) to actively destroy the grayzone themselves . . . Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize . . . or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens.” (see The “grayzone” they are referring to is the culture of religious freedom and diversity that we profess to value. ISIS’s goal is to bring you and I to a place where we will come to fear Muslims living around us and reject the idea of religious freedom this country was supposedly built on, therefore pushing those who are Muslim to flee to ISIS for refuge.

Unfortunately, their strategy is working.

You can hardly turn on the news, click on Facebook or listen to the radio without hearing the latest cries to reject the Syrian refugees who are fleeing from ISIS or even turn out Muslims who are already living in this country. ISIS is hoping we will take a hard line on accepting refugees so those refugees have to turn back to ISIS-controlled areas and be a part of the so-called “Islamic State.” ISIS wants to create a climate of fear where we turn away the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free because it plays right into the story they are trying to tell — that ISIS represents the Muslim world which is in conflict with the West. They want the women, men and children who are fleeing their reign of terror to have no place to go but back into ISIS’s toxic embrace — and many Americans are only too happy to play along.

Alongside turning us toward fear and bringing us to a place where we help them achieve their goals, ISIS is also pushing Christians to reject our own faith. Christian faith has always tied together what we believe and how we live it out. The Biblical book of James says it well by declaring that “As a lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead” (James 2:26). Over the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth, Christians have debated exactly what actions define true faith, but we have never wavered in recognizing that actions rooted in love are essential to following Jesus. Scripture has many commands about welcoming the stranger and caring for the hungry, but there is something even deeper at work than these specific commands: ISIS is leading many people of faith to act from fear instead of love.

Fear and love are inherently opposed to one another. Fear is focused on self, love is focused on someone else. Fear is reactive, love is proactive. Fear causes us to shut down, love causes us to reach out. Both fear and love are emotions that lead to actions and, as those who follow Jesus, we must live out of love alone because “there is no fear in love, perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). People of faith disagree on the specifics of how we live out of love, but we agree with Jesus that the greatest commandment is to love God and those around us. If we are truly going to follow Jesus, we must be compelled by love in our lives — and we must refuse to be held captive by fear.

So, when I say that I see ISIS pushing Christians to deny their faith, what I mean is simply this: if fear controls our actions rather than love, then we are no longer followers of the God who became human to come to this world and show love by offering his life for spiritual refugees like us. There are many thousands of people fleeing from ISIS and the Syrian conflict and they need the hands-on love of Jesus Christ in their lives through the people who bear Jesus’ name as Christians. We must set aside our fear and embrace love or, if we are committed to living in fear, then we need to cease calling ourselves after the name of the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so we might live.

Everyone is afraid at times, but we get to decide if fear will control us. I pray that, as a country, the love of God would overcome every fear so we might love those who are desperate for someone to welcome a stranger. We might just discover that we are welcoming Jesus himself (See Matthew 25).

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or