“L’horreur, à nouveau.”
This morning’s headline for Le Figaro says it all. A lorry has ploughed through a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, leaving at 84 people dead, a deliberate act of terrorism.
Just one man intent on terrible violence using a everyday commercial vehicle.
This could be anywhere but what makes this atrocity particularly chilling is that the Promenade des Anglais on the evening of July 14th is one place we would all like to be. A relaxed festive atmosphere, a celebration for all the family; then this terrible horror.
France reels under shocking violence yet again. “L’horreur, à nouveau.” It takes just one man fuelled with a terrible hatred, someone who is prepared to drive straight into a crowd filled with children.
The French state with its nuclear arsenal and large security apparatus is powerless. The 150,000 in the sûreté along with 105,000 gendarmes could not prevent yet another outrage. President Hollande may call up 10,000 military reservists and extend the state of emergency – but to little effect.
The authorities are powerless in this kind of situation.
This truly is asymmetric warfare and as the journalist Ignacio Ramonet observes: “History teaches us that in asymmetric warfare the most heavily armed do not always win.”
However, from the perspective of the Bible this is not just a political problem to be addressed, even a social crisis to be solved. It is a case of good and evil, no less.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” concludes the apostle Paul, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).
Or as the Message paraphrase continues: “This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.”
Christians are in a unique place when it comes to this struggle against the powers of the darkness. We refuse to be faced down by evil. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:36).
This defiance comes “through him who loved us!” Notice the past tense, in Greek the aorist, signifying a single simple event in the past. We’re talking about the cross.
This is where we begin, not in the banlieues of Paris or in ‘jihadist breeding ground’ around Nice. It is at Golgotha where evil is unmasked, exposed and defeated. By one single man intent on allowing violence its full and terrible reign, except.
Except Jesus was surrendered totally to God in his love and longing for justice as he submitted to the nails. And amazingly, remarkably, this simple trust was altogether vindicated – as shown by his resurrection victory.
But Jesus is not just our pioneer, he is our model. He shows us how evil is defeated – through love and through a complete abandonment to God’s care. So as disciples of Jesus, we are called each day to take up our own cross.
(Incidentally, we may be called to sacrifice our own lives – that is what crosses do: they kill people, slowly).
And now everything is reversed. Weakness becomes power, failure succeeds, the meek inherit the earth. We choose to say with Mary: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me just as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
The basic rule in spiritual warfare is that only spiritual weaponry works. And the most powerful would appear to us the least effective: prayer. You can hear the world laugh.
But Jesus urges us to pray for the simple reason is that is how the Kingdom of God works to surprising effect. I have on my desk a handwritten note from our MP thanking me for my assurance of our prayers. These are difficult times for those in public office.
For as John Wesley knew from experience: “Prayer is where the action is.” And it was his ministry, some historians reckon, which kept Britain from the revolution which engulfed the French.
Of course, prayer may propel us into new directions, surprising ministries. “The most dangerous prayer you can pray is this: ‘Use me.’” (Rick Warren).
But we never leave prayer behind, even if it is “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Prayer is always where we begin.
It was Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered cruelly at the hands of evil men, who calls us to pray: “The devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get too busy. But he trembles when we pray-especially when we pray together.”
So we pray for France.