Once again, the world has been shocked by acts of unspeakable violence and brutality. Once again, the world mourns with the families and friends of victims of tragedy. Once again, the world searches for meaning and hope in the terrible wreckage left in the wake of such dehumanizing hatred, senseless bloodshed, and unparalleled loss.
In this time of grief, it is all too easy to see the path the world has laid out for us. It is the path of retributive justice, of reciprocate hatred, of fear and anger. This is the way the world moves; the way governments, militaries, and judicial systems function. But it is at this critical time that we must ask ourselves what our role must be in the aftermath of such tragedy.
The best we can possibly do is to look to the most enduring response to violence and death that there is. The death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ, some two thousand years ago. Unjust powers, motivated by anger and fear, murdered the very incarnation of God. What became of this greatest travesty? God forged it into the greatest triumph over evil that Creation has yet seen. And what of the one who became the victim in our place? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
In the very darkest hour, Jesus called upon God for forgiveness. We see this message in his teachings, and then echoed in his living and his dying. Profound forgiveness. Profound mercy. Profound grace.
In 2006, an armed man entered a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He shot 10 girls between six and 13 years old, five of whom died, and then committed suicide. The response of the Amish community was swift. Within hours of the shooting, an Amish neighbour had visited the family of the gunman and offered comfort and forgiveness. Standing by the body of his murdered granddaughter, a grandfather told several young boys “We must not think evil of this man”. Some 30 of the Amish community attended the funeral of the assailant, and one of the few outsiders permitted to the funeral of one of the Amish girls was the man’s widow.
I sometimes wonder at the capacity of humankind for such forgiveness, but then I realise that I am merely wondering at God’s grace. I look back to the earliest words of the Bible and find that in Genesis 1:27 we were created in the image of God and that in verse 31 God saw everything that had been made and “it was supremely good”.
And, even though much has happened since God set those mighty intentions into play, I hold God’s words close from 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” And in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.
Perhaps it is in the darkest hours that the light shines out the brightest, that the vision of the kingdom is clearest, no matter how distant. The path to that kingdom is never so clearly laid, but the vision is there. It is a vision of all nations streaming forward, all division cast aside, all conflict passed, Jew and Gentile together.
So today I mourn for all the victims of this unthinkable violence. I mourn for their family. And their family is this world. Every last person is their neighbour. Every last person is a victim of this tragedy – violence is indeed an evil which harms both victim and perpetrator.
I pray for the citizens of Paris, for the country of France, for Europe, for every country the world over, as they bow their heads from the weight of death and useless violence as it continues to visit itself upon brother after brother, sister after sister. I pray for healing, for forgiveness, and for hope in the hearts of the affected families. Wrong has been done, and there is not one person on this world who is not a victim of it.
And I pray that through it all, the goodness of God will continue to shine through. The goodness that was there at the moment of creation, that was created anew in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that continues to be created as the kingdom of heaven struggles forth in the darkest of times and places.
I pray for forgiveness. I pray for grace. I pray for peace.
The Most Revd Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis is Archbishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa and Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
This comment was first posted on his diocesan website.