The senseless killings this week at the Charlie Hebdo offices are shocking and unacceptable. As the story unfolded this week many of us looked with absolute disbelief that such a thing was really happening and my thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by this atrocity.
It looks likely that the motivation behind the attack was a retaliation against what the attackers saw as blasphemy. I was listening to the radio and the presenter read out a text from someone trying to explain why they believe that blasphemy is offensive. They said, ‘imagine someone you love is being insulted, how would that make you feel?
I sympathise with what they were trying to say, but nothing excuses or condones this horrendous attack or anything like it.
Blasphemy is offensive and Christians put up with it every day, we are used to hearing people say ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ as a swear word and this can be upsetting.
This week we have seen how not to respond to blasphemy and I don’t just mean the shooting, I think that the thought process and hatred that leads to an act of violence is also wrong. If violence isn’t the way then we are left with a simple question.
How should we respond to someone insulting the God who we love?
I think that Jesus shows us in Matthew 12.22-37:
The Pharisees accuse Jesus of driving out a demon by the power of Satan and although he talks about this being a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit he doesn’t attack anyone.
Jesus responds in a very simple way, firstly he explains how ludicrous the suggestion is. He says that ‘a kingdom divided against itself can’t stand’, that Satan can’t battle Satan and then Jesus reminds his accusers that God is stronger than Satan.
Do you see what Jesus did there?
Instead of being stroppy he points people to God.
Instead of rejecting people he explains who God is.
Bizarrely, blasphemy can be a really good opportunity to talk about who God is because it places God at the centre of attention. When they blaspheme, people depict God in a certain way that we believe is wrong and this is actually a good opportunity for us to talk about who God really is rather than being upset with people.
After explaining the flaws in his accusers thinking, Jesus goes on to challenge them about what is driving them. He wants to know what is motivating them to say and do the things they do? When people disagree with our worldview it is very reasonable for us to question theirs. This doesn’t have to be argumentative or violent, if we can’t agree we can still be friends! We need to learn to talk with people and not at them.
Jesus does call them ‘a brood of vipers’ which is pretty in your face but it is worth noting that he only spoke harshly to the religious people who should have known better.
Jesus also reminds them that one day God will judge us all. I’m not sure it’s our job to be the holy police, emphasizing to people everything they are doing wrong. I want to point people to Jesus who loves us and who dies to save us. God is the judge and I am happy to leave it to him rather than criticizing or attacking others.
Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven but thankfully I believe that this has now changed. Because of the death of Jesus, we are promised that ‘the blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7). Blasphemy against God is serious, but all things can be forgiven when we come to God in repentance (willing to turn from sin and to change our minds to make him Lord).
The sad thing about a Christians usual response to blasphemy is that it separates us from people. It is clear from Jesus’ example that he wants us to engage in conversation with people about their view of God.
In the spirit of a conversation, I offer these three thoughts:
You may say Christ to swear, but I call on Christ as my saviour.
You may say Jesus when you are shocked but I pray to Jesus who loves us and who has the power to change things.
When you use my Lord’s name it belittles him but I want us all to realize how great he is.
I hope and pray that we can stop burying our heads in the sand if we are uncomfortable with what people are saying and doing.
Let’s choose to be like Jesus who was known as ‘the friend of sinners’.