When bloody horror erupts on our TVs and phones we mourn with those who mourn. We pray for the gospel to “speed ahead and be honored” and for God to comfort all those who have suffered loss because of ISIS’s rampage through Paris.
We are also hard-wired from the factory to grasp for the “Why?”. In the West’s war with ISIS this much is certain: Like the Republicans and Democrats, we don’t even agree on what the issues are.
The secular West thinks ISIS is morally bankrupt because they subvert freedom. They murder and rape as an act of worship to Allah. They think the West is spiritually and morally bankrupt because we do not acknowledge Allah or the Caliphate and pervert sexuality.
We so champion freedom and democracy that we aren’t even talking about what ISIS is talking about. ISIS sees this war as hugely spiritual and moral and yet, from the non-stop news coverage since the terrorists hit Friday night, I have not heard even one news commentary on that topic.
What we hear in the news media is an endless stream of political, economic and military experts who attribute the rise of ISIS to a failed political policy, economic difficulties and the oppression of monstrous dictators like Assad.
Take this assessment from The New York Times: “Unlike the attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January, terrorism experts said, the attacks on the targets on Friday had no apparent rationale. Instead, assailants appeared to strike at random in hip neighborhoods on a Friday night when many people would be starting to enjoy the weekend.”
“No apparent rationale?” In their own words the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the catastrophic attacks in the French capital, calling them “the first of the storm” and mocking France as a “capital of prostitution and obscenity.”
They were attacking Westerners going out on a Friday night “starting to enjoy the weekend” precisely because they are appalled at how we spend our weekends.
Case in point: take a look at snippets from two songs of the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, that was playing in the Bataclan, where the worst of the carnage took place.
"Some people call it a one night stand, But we can call it paradise; Don't say a prayer for me now, Save it 'til the morning after""I'm feeling power from the pit of hell yeah…I touch a woman make the flesh burn hot"
The spiritual/sexual references that so many in the West would dismiss as your garden-variety party metal infuriate ISIS. They believe they are not merely justified, but absolutely self-righteous in their terror attacks. The Associated Press reports that a legitimate ISIS claim of responsibility condemned, “hundreds of apostates [who] were attending an adulterous party” at the Bataclan.
In England, as of August, fifty-three young Muslim girls have slipped out of the country and joined ISIS in Syria. A New York Times reporter investigating the motivation of the recent flight of three of them wrote, “They have come to resent the Western freedoms and opportunities their parents sought out. They see Western fashions sexualizing girls from an early age.” They reject our freedom that leads to sexual anything-goes. They want modesty and marriage. “Beards are sexy.” The COVERed Girl is too.
“Asked by their families during exchanges on social media platforms why they had run away, the girls spoke of leaving behind an immoral society to search for religious virtue and meaning.”
To those like the French president who threaten to crush ISIS and end the war on terror, it’s important to ask, What do you have to offer these young Muslims? How much does it matter what we believe is fueling ISIS terrorism if that is not what they report is truly motivating them to join the caliphate?
And if this is representative of what they believe, we can’t help but wonder how we can ever end this war. We will most likely not relinquish our freedom. They most likely will not relinquish their theology. Whatever for? We don't have much to offer by way of "moral virtue or meaning."
Here in the West many of us are rejecting and deconstructing any larger story that gives meaning to life. We are substituting a tournament of narratives, the small stories of individual lives, long on wit, parody and entertainment, but short on heroic virtue and meaning. Not the kind of stories you would die for.
In these postmodern times many of us take comfort in the demise of modernism’s confidence that man, starting from his own reason, education, and technology can solve our problems. Or find answers to the larger questions of life: How do we know what is true and good? Where have we come from? Where are we going? How do we find purpose and meaning?
Yet many of us have little confidence that knowable answers can be found. Satisfaction and attainment may be elusive, but the journey and expectation are everything. It is enough to share this journey with a loving circle of people, placing great value on relationships and authenticity and let the quest for religious virtue and meaning go ultimately unfulfilled.
ISIS, on the other hand, is living in the larger story of Islam and the caliphate. In their notoriously apocalyptic theology the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of the caliphate in the farmlands of Dabiq, northern Syria where the infidels will be defeated. After a season of conquest they will be almost destroyed by Dajjal, an anti-Messiah figure. But Jesus will come to the rescue of the final 5,000 caliphate warriors and vanquish Dajaal.
By engaging in terror they are provoking the infidels to "Bring it!"
What larger story does the West have to offer ISIS? Sadly, many are rejecting the one story that still offers hope–the gospel. Where Christ died for us, to reconcile us to God. Where the mystery of lawlessness will increase in a great rebellion until the anti-Christ will set himself up to be God. Where Jesus will return with his saints to kill the antiChrist with the breath of his mouth.
Any similarities of the Christian story to the ISIS story end at the name of Islam–Submit. ISIS, indeed all radical Islam, forces submission at the edge of a sword. Jesus gave his own life that we might freely choose him. Or not. It is the way of compulsion vs the way of love.
In that love, as Dallas Willard writes, "this world is a perfectly safe place to be." It sounds crazy. Completely counter-intuitive. But think about it…
Eternal life in Christ is already ours, if we are in union with Christ. Not a quantity of life. A quality of life. A of life.
Even if the war with ISIS looks bleak from a human perspective…even if it goes on another fifteen years, and another…for generations…Whether our leaders and our military might can quash them or not…Whether the suicide bombers or gunmen create chaos and take lives in Washington DC or not…we are perfectly safe because these calamities do not define our eternity. Our eternal present reality.
Yes, we may still feel fear, but we are surrounded by the love of God. Nothing can separate us from it. From him. Your name is already written in the Lamb's Book of Life. To live is Christ. To die is to gain more of him. More of his love.
You really are perfectly safe.