The Peshawar Attack: How I Failed as a Christian

Yesterday one hundred and thirty-two schoolchildren were murdered by terrorists at their school in Peshawar.  The funerals are already taking place, as is normal in Islamic countries.  One hundred and thirty-two coffins, heartbreakingly small; one hundred and thirty-two sets of grieving parents; one hundred and thirty-two families whose future has been snatched away in a heartbeat.  It is too much to bear.

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Jesus, whom Christians like me believe to be the son of God, had much to say about suffering.  On numerous occasions he predicted that suffering would come, that his followers would be handed over to the authorities, that they would be killed.  In the Gospel of Matthew he stated that he was sending his followers out “like sheep among wolves”.  Yet he also instructed us how to respond to suffering.  We should not retaliate, but instead should “turn the other cheek”, we should “bless those who persecute us”.  Paul, a leader of the early church, agreed: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”.

I cannot do it.  When I see the pain carved into the faces of the people crowding around Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, the inchoate grief of those uttering funeral prayers over coffins that are far too small, forgiveness is far from my mind.  The only thoughts in my mind are dark and murderous.  May the perpetrators of this deed know nothing but pain and anguish.  May their houses be destroyed, may their crops be ruined, may they weep and grieve and die far from their loved ones.  I want to offer them not forgiveness, but bombs, and bullets, and violence.  I – even I, a committed pacifist! – want them to look into the eyes of the weeping mothers, the anguished fathers, and know just a fraction of the unspeakable pain that is tearing their souls into pieces.  The impossibility of forgiving the kind of people who would shoot schoolchildren cowering under their desks – this impossibility stares me in the face and mocks my futile rage.  I am failing as a follower of Jesus

But this rage will not help.  Fighting violence with more violence will only beget yet further violence.  This attack was carried out in response to the army offensive against terrorists in Waziristan, an offensive that was launched in response to terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which were carried out in response to a previous offensive against terrorists in the Swat Valley….and so the cycle goes, an eye for an eye, a bomb for a bomb, a massacre in return for a massacre.  The same cycle spins in Israel and Palestine, and it spins in Syria and Iraq, and it spins wearily on its bloodslicked axis wherever men with cruel faces lift rifles to their shoulders or pull pins from grenades.  Nothing will change, if we carry on like this.

This is why Jesus said what he did.  Because he knew that the only way out of this deepening torrent of murder and darkness was to choose a different course of action, a decision so illogical, so difficult, that it makes us want to laugh.  To forgive.  To refuse to bear a grudge.  To offer love in the place of anger.  This is why he chose to give his life in our place, uttering the words “Father, forgive them” even as men committed barbarities against him.  Because this offers us a way out.

I can’t do it.  But I know that I have to do it.  The words of forgiveness stick in my throat, as if even my larynx cannot bring itself to utter something so contrary to human nature.  It is a choice between darkness and light, and yet darkness is so much easier.

It is still too raw.

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5 comments
  1. Religion is used to persuade men to acts against nature. It’s too easy to say “the acts we prompt are good ones”. The very idea that thousand year old scripts are a better guide to moral behaviour than nature is seriously flawed.

    • Sweaty Pilgrim said:

      Hey Mick, thanks for commenting. I appreciate your taking the time.

      This is not an easy topic. I think the main issue for me is human nature: frankly I think you trust it more than I do! I always seem to want to do things I know are bad, but doing things I know to be good (forgiving people, helping others) always seems so difficult. Trusting human nature to do the right thing is a risky thing to do.

      As for trusting old scripts – what’s the problem with that? Has Romeo and Juliet lost its power because it was written 400 years ago? Are the accounts of Alexander the Great’s conquests to be mistrusted simply because they are old? I would say that the age of the Bible manuscripts is less relevant than their trustworthiness, or their ability to transform the human experience. But that’s another debate…

      • Folk understood wrong and right before the written word was invented. It’s written into (virtually) every cell of our bodies. I don’t see any benefit in seeking an alternative source, whatever its age. I do see danger when folk tell us they know better, whatever religious, tribal or national banner they choose.

  2. Sweaty Pilgrim said:

    Agreed – but I believe there is a difference between knowing right and wrong and being able to choose it. Humans have known right and wrong for a long time and yet we still see murders, thefts, terrorism. Trusting humans to do the right thing is a risky thing to do! Would society be better without religion? I doubt it. Some of the most cruel societies ever to have existed were officially atheist. Abolishing God does not make things better, not by a long way.

    • Many, most even, religious folk are well meaning. But it is too easily perverted and even the well meaning get swept along when they are convinced their religion is under threat. Along with patriotism and tribalism, it is how we muster the troops. Not enough people stop and ask “who is getting rich from this?”

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