Like the rest of Sydney I woke up this morning to the awful news that the siege in Martin Place has ended with the death of two of the hostages and the gunman. Lives are shattered and we begin to ask why and how this happened.
As we learn more about the lone gunman we discover that while he may have been described as “isolated” (in that he was increasingly distanced from the mainstream Islamic community here in Sydney) he certainly could not in one sense be described as “lone”. As soon as the flag with the words of the Shahada were pushed up into the window of the Lindt Café it was clear to me that this could not end well.
As isolated or not as this man might be, the particular strain of Jihadism that we are seeing globally is one that is increasingly associated with bloodshed. While I don’t like the Prime Minister’s chosen descriptor of “Death Cult”, in a sense it is partially true. But it is not enough to describe this underlying motivation. It was not a skull and crossbones that were printed on that flag.
I’ve written before about the futile attempt to separate this kind of atrocity from Islam. It is not the totality of Islam but it certainly has a grounding in it. But this morning I want to look at another related theme.
A short while ago on ABC News 24 a specialist on this type of violence and Islamic extremism explained to the anchor that groups like ISIS are attractive to some because of what he described as a “Narrative of Redemption”. That this is true seems intuitively so – we see young men in particular (although the gunman in Sydney was 50 years old) caught up in a new sense of urgency and purpose. Many of them have been brought out of lives of (mostly petty) crime and given a new reason to live. But more than that, it is a philosophy that places the emphasis on their own actions. These disenfranchised and disempowered men can now take back the reins of their lives. More than that, they can be part of a greater revolution.
What is clear is that the emphasis is on their own effort and hard work. Jihad is, quite literally, a struggle. It is not just that their particular slanted view of Islam may redeem them – it is that they now have a chance to redeem themselves; not only in the eyes of their peers but, more importantly, in the eyes of Allah. Allah “the Merciful” rewards such Jihad. Of course the juxtaposition of “mercy” and “reward” is incongruous; mercy is that which is not deserved, moreover it is the giving of good things to the undeserving. At the end of it all, violent jihadism it is just another version of justification by works – the ultimate human religion – but one in which others are caught in the crossfire.
One of the jarring aspects of this whole tragedy is that it all happened just 10 days before Christmas. Sydney has, in the last week, gone into Christmas mode. There’s always that discernible change in vibe from just the season where all the big stores have their decorations up and start plugging gifts for purchase to that moment when the shoppers are in the mood too. I think we got there last week. The Lindt Café would have been decked out in Christmas finery as Man Haron Monis burst through the doors.
Of course, the most jarring difference is that between the actions of Monis and those of the One who those decorations are celebrating. It’s the same jarring difference between all man-made religion and the only true religion; trust in the Lord Jesus Christ of whom the angel says,
Matt. 1:21 “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Here is real redemption. Not that I save myself by my actions and am rewarded by a merciful God (again, note the contradiction in terms) but that another comes and saves me. Here is redemption already won for me, as Zechariah prophesies,
Luke 1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people”
There is no Jihad in following Jesus. All the struggle is done for us. In fact the opposite is true, we are urged in a sense not to struggle.
Rom. 4:4-8 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Much could be said about this and some contrasts are obvious, if not already much-stated. Both struggles for redemption are costly. For Monis there was not only the cost of his own life but that of others. He no doubt understood that their death was part of his jihad and justified, as do many others who have acted and will go on to act in similar ways. Jesus, on the other hand, offers up His own life not for His own benefit but for those who have sinned against Him.
That is not to say that Jesus does not look forward to paradise. The Scriptures are clear, pointing us to
Heb. 12:2… Jesus, … who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
But this is where the similarity ends. Monis, and others like him, look to the death of others who they view as being sinful as their own pathway to paradise.
Jesus offers up His own life so that those who are sinful may be carried to paradise.
Therefore the only answer to the sin and destruction of yesterday is Jesus. He brings redemption to all, no matter what they have done, if only they will trust Him, place their confidence in Him and His death on their behalf.
And He also shows us how to respond, to love our enemies and to seek their redemption. He brings comfort to the grieving and (not to be forgotten) a promise that all wrongs will be righted.
The events in Sydney over the last 24 hours have not ruined Christmas. Nothing can ruin Christmas – for the coming of Jesus into the World is greater than any other event. If anything, the deaths of 3 people in the Lindt Café only serves to demonstrate just how wonderful and necessary Christmas is.
Christmas brings to a climax the only Narrative of Redemption that actually works. No man or woman can redeem themselves, no matter how high a price they seek to pay or extract, and so Jesus came willingly to give His life to pay the price to redeem us and in doing so He models for us the proper gracious response to the injustice we experience or perceive around us. Let this tragedy of Martin Place drive us all the more towards the Narrative of Redemption that is Christmas.
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Excellent! Prayed so hard that neither the hostages nor the gun-man would be killed and very sad that they were, but this article puts the whole event into its proper perspective. Praying so much for t hose who have lost their loved ones.
Thnaks David – this is a helpful explanation. The concept of engaging in a struggle (jihad) as a means of earning salvation is probably also appealing to someone who is otherwise disenfranchised from society.
David, I have a different way of looking at this. I see redemption/salvation not as a “reward” but as a ‘result’ of basing one’s life/actions on God’s Word/Truth/Commandments (understood spiritually). God values people’s freedom/free-will above everything else. If they don’t want to live according to God’s revelation of what will make them truly human and truly happy there can be no salvation. The only way one can demonstrate that willingness is by making the effort to so live (“If you love Me, keep My commandments”) while acknowledging that the inspiration to do so and the power to so act are free gifts of mercy from God.
Any inspiration and power that comes from our own/human ideas rather than directly from God’s revelation, is corrupted and is ultimately destructive of our and others happiness. Life is meant to be a struggle against evil. If it weren’t there would be no purpose in having free-will. There is no other way for evil to be overcome in our minds and hearts than to latch onto and live God’s way. When we do ‘the yoke is easy and the burden light’ because God is fighting for us in the life principles we are implementing.
The Jihad (of Islamist tradition), properly/spiritually understood, is about the inner struggle that takes place in human minds between good (from God) and evil (from selfishness) inclinations and promptings (i.e. between God and selfish, worldly thoughts and feelings).
Extremist Islamists, because they are focused on worldly rather than heavenly happiness, abuse their religious tradition and bring terror and havoc to others lives in their vain search for an illusionary/worldly ‘heaven’. True heaven/happiness is only found in loving and serving others (as taught by Jesus).
hi Ralph. Interesting thoughts. One question: when you state "God values people’s freedom/free-will above everything else." what makes you assert that with such confidence? Personally I think God values something else above all others but I'm interested to hear your reasoning.
I have felt so sad this could happen in my home town my condolences go out to the families of the hostages that died, my prayers for the survivors and the emergency services who were so brave and professional.
I agree with what you wrote David it is a comfort and I hope everyone reading will reach out to Muslims rather than hate them.
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I can try David. Without free-will (the ability to make moral and spiritual choices) we wouldn’t be human. If we existed at all it would be as some sort of robot or just another animal. God wanted creatures capable of being like Himself (but in a finite way) so He created beings with rationality and free-will. We would not be able to experience the feeling of life as being our own without these two capabilities.
Rationality is a prerequisite of free-will. It’s not possible to make a meaningful choice without first understanding what one is choosing but the primary importance is the choice itself.
Everything God created/creates is good. The only creature that can negate and distort good and hence create evil is humankind. God could have nipped the ‘problem of evil’ in the bud, when it first began to manifest itself, by over-riding free-will but in so doing would have destroyed the human race.
God is Love so that wasn’t/isn’t even an option. God doesn’t make mistakes. He would have had foreknowledge of how mankind would abuse the gift of free-will. So His plan for mankind also involves a means of redemption through a process of reeducation or regeneration – based on conscience which is formed from the truths of revelation.
thanks Ralph. What do you make of the language of Jesus that we are “slaves to sin”? A slave is, surely, not free?
David, I assume you’re referring to John 8:34 – “Jesus answered them, Amen, amen, I say to you that everyone doing sin is the servant of sin.”
That’s part of a conversation that begins, “ If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It demonstrates the result of our choices. If, from faith in the truth-giver, we live the truth (as taught in the Word/revelation) we will have in insight (from experience) of what the truth really is and as a result will be “free” because we are living in the truth and the truth is living in us.
If, on the other hand, when we are doing/committing sin we become enslaved by it because it’s sensually and/or intellectually pleasurable (in a selfish way). Only an influx of the truth – lived (as above) can turn that around, return one from the deviant/sinful/deluded path and back into the ‘stream of providence’/ the freedom that inherently results from living the truth/reality.
No one is born sinful – look at the innocence/guilelessness of little children. That only develops as we grow and begin to intellectualise and own selfish motivations for our desires and actions. Once rationality begins to develop that becomes a matter of free-will.
hi Ralph. So much to reply to but I think the last paragraph is key. You write:
Whereas King David by the Spirit says,
How would you respond?
I Googled your quote David and came up with a number of articles saying it is used by people in support of the doctrine of ‘original sin’. Most that I looked at were firmly against the concept. For example
Original Sin and a Misapplied Passage
Wikipedia says, “This condition [original sin] has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.
“A (latent) tendency towards sin” that manifests as one approaches towards adulthood/rationality makes much more sense than the claim that people are born sinful. The latter is a denial of free-will. The former demonstrates that we inherit spiritual tendencies to disorder just as we inherit natural tendencies to diseases neither of which need to become actualities if we are forewarned and learn how to guard and fight against them.
well lots of people say lots of stuff on the internet. I’m interested in what the Bible says. David, by the Spirit, says “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.
I’m really not sure anyone gets around that other than by denying the plain meaning. But if we’re to do that then let’s at least give up the claim that we have a Biblical doctrine.
Thanks David, good article. I think the islamic extremists would be very unhappy with the way things have developed – a great outpouring of community spirit, and I think in a small way even a somewhat greater appreciation by many Australians of Christianity. Terrible what the families have had to go through, and of course now in Pakistan there are far more grieving families as well.
I am glad to see that some journalists are challenging the idea that this is “not about religion”. I know the gunman was anti-social and probably mad, but nevertheless it was precisely about religion. He promulgated the tenets of Islam as justification for his actions, and there are some extremist Muslim groups who are glad for that to happen. They have to be called to account. I appreciate that there are also many moderate Muslims and my comments are not directed towards them – they are often the first targets of the extremists.
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Hi David I thoought you might like this article from the Economist http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2015/01/reforming-islam