True Light, True Peace
The attacks in France a fortnight ago were a real shock to that nation. In the centre of their capital city, restaurants, bars, a music venue and a sports stadium were the targets of Islamist gunmen who fired indiscriminately, killing 130 people, and then blew themselves up. The hunt continues for the man who is thought to have masterminded the outrage and there are renewed attempts to destroy the organisation behind it, known as ISIL or ‘Islamic State’. In other countries with a military involvement in the Middle East, including our own, many are wondering: will it be us next?
We continue to pray for the bereaved, the recovering victims and those who seek to help them. Many will struggle to come to terms with what has happened and mental scars will remain when the physical wounds have healed. It is difficult to make sense of something which, on the surface, appears so senseless. It is helpful though to consider the two things at the heart of this event: the city where the carnage occurred and the religion which was associated with it. We contrast them with what we believe to be the true hope for our troubled world.
‘The City of Light’
Firstly the city, Paris. It is often referred to as ‘the City of Light’. The title stems from the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, a cultural movement which began in Paris in the early eighteenth century. The Enlightenment exalted man’s intellect, placing confidence in science and learning, and adopted a sceptical attitude towards religion. It did not help that the dominant religion was Roman Catholicism. Sadly the influence of the Enlightenment was felt even in Presbyterian Scotland.
The Enlightenment led to the French Revolution of 1789, a bloody event which overthrew the monarchy and ushered in a republic. High on its agenda was the dechristianisation of French society. This went far beyond curtailing the power of the Roman Church and removing its public symbols. An extraordinary ‘revolutionary calendar’ was drawn up, removing all references to saints’ days but also abolishing the sabbath and introducing a ten-day week. The climax came with a “Festival of Reason” held in Notre Dame Cathedral in 1793.
While many of these excesses were later abandoned, the core of the revolution remains in the modern French republic, summed up in the national motto, ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’. A quarter of the country’s population identify as atheists and more than three-quarters consider that it is not necessary to believe in God to be a moral person – the highest rate in the world.
Why do we mention these things? So that it may be seen that the French Revolution is the wellspring of the liberal ideologies which have flooded our continent in recent times, threatening to overwhelm our Christian civilisation. With its inheritance of radicalism, feminism and secularism, France is praised by many today as the model of a ‘progressive’ country. But are its values, now shared by many western nations, really a beacon for the world?
We can only respond in the negative. Looked at from the perspective of the Word of God, the legacy of the Enlightenment is one of increasing spiritual darkness and a decline into decadence and meaninglessness. As relativism replaces biblical absolutes, evil fruit appear: abortion, drug-taking, sexual immorality, materialism, vulgarity and blasphemy are not signs of a society going forward but backward. A culture that has wilfully rejected the gospel of Christ deserves divine judgment and is being judged by the Lord, for “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men” (Rom. 1:18).
Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord speaks to our generation: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20) National repentance is urgently needed. We must return to the Scriptures as the infallible guide to what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. We must recognise that we are provoking the Lord by our sins and that without the favour of the Lord we cannot prosper and must surely perish. We must recover a belief in Jesus Christ as “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
‘The Religion of Peace’
Secondly the religion, Islam. Its followers insist on labelling it as ‘the Religion of Peace’ and our Prime Minister repeated this after the Paris attacks. It is instructive to learn that Islam permits the practice of ‘taqqiya’, or dissimulation for the sake of the faith: in other words, Muslims may deceive others by hiding what they really believe, especially under duress. So while it is claimed that ‘Islam’ signifies ‘peace’ in reality it means ‘submission’. A Muslim therefore is someone who submits to ‘Allah’, the Muslim god, and is under an obligation to bring others into the same submission.
Many Muslims seek the expansion of Islam, leading to a worldwide dominion. ‘Islamists’ are willing to impose their religion by physical force and to fight against ‘infidels’ who oppose their values: to them the slaughter in Paris was ‘jihad’ or so-called ‘holy war’. We recognise that there are Muslims who abhor such barbarity and who view ‘jihad’ in much the same way as Christians view striving against personal sin. However there is little doubt that ‘jihad’ originally meant taking up arms in the interests of the faith. In the Koran, the holy book of Islam, the ‘non-violent’ and ‘peaceable’ texts come before the ‘aggressive’ and ‘belligerent’ ones: a principle of Koranic interpretation is that earlier revelation may be cancelled out by later revelation and so in the last analysis Islam is not a religion of peace but of conflict.
It is a fact that in their personal lives Muslims sadly know nothing of peace with God. Although Allah is described as “The Merciful One” in the Koran, there is very little said about forgiveness of sin; it is regarded as an arbitrary act with little if any moral basis. If there is a moral basis it is that a person’s ‘good’ deeds outweigh his ‘bad’ ones. When salvation is by works poor souls can never find peace. Signifcantly, Islam teaches that there is one thing a Muslim can do which is sure to gain him admission to paradise: become a martyr for the cause of Islam. No doubt this explains why some are attracted to Islamic State and why many term it a ‘death-cult’.
The Paris attacks follow the Twin Towers massacre in New York in 2001 and the bombings in London in 2005. Why have these things happened? When Israel cast away the law of the Lord and despised God’s word, Isaiah declared: “the anger of the Lord is kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the streets” (Isa. 5:25). Militant Islam is a scourge from God to chastise backslidden Christian nations. Are we listening to the rod, and who has appointed it? (Mic. 6:9) It would be a step in the right direction if our politicians and churchmen admitted that these atrocities have something to do with Islam – and a lot to do with our own sinful departures from the Lord.
Our True Hope
When we go to the Bible we find a God who is glorious in His holiness. His mercy is a just mercy: it cannot reach sinners except His justice is satisfied. An atonement was needed for guilty men and in an act of infinite love God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ as the Redeemer. He suffered in the place of sinners, bearing the punishment they deserved, and reconciled them to God, giving them their liberty. God has “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). Believing in the Saviour, we rejoice in the truth that “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). With that peace comes progress in holiness and the assurance of salvation. By grace we look forward to a place in heaven. Christ is indeed the one true hope for mankind.