Today, 70 people in Lahore Pakistan were murdered as they celebrated Easter. The majority of the dead are children and women. Hundreds more people have been injured by the suicide bombing, which has been claimed by the Taliban.
The Taliban chose their time and place carefully, deliberately targeting Christians. This is a far too common story in the Middle East and subsaharan Africa. Persecution against Christians and other minority groups has persisted in many of these countries for decades, and sporadically over centuries. But they are not the only victims; as we have seen in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, Muslim people are readily targeted, and in Brussels and Paris the attacks were levelled at secular societies.
Yesterday in Baghdad while people gathered to enjoy a soccer match, a man blew himself up killing 41 people, mostly children.
Last week, 31 people were blown up in Brussels, with Islamic State taking responsibility.
The week before, at least 37 people were killed in one of Ankara’s busiest streets, when a car packed with explosives was detonated; a Kurdish group has claimed to be behind the bombing.
As with Paris last year, following the dreadful carnage in Belgium social media was taken captive to hashtag Belgium, and people overlaid their Facebook profiles with the colours of the Belgian flag. National leaders took to their pulpits to cry solidarity with our friends and allies. Perhaps somewhat symbolic of Western ignorance, the One World Trade Centre lit up the Manhattan skyline in the Belgian colours: red, white and blue? But where was the public support for the Turkish people last week? Where was the twitter outrage and the clarion calls from our politicians when a Baghdadi soccer field turned red with the blood of children? In light of the Lahore massacre will we tomorrow light the spiral of the Victorian Arts Centre in Pakistan’s green and white?
Our humanity has constraints; limitation is after all a characteristic common to all people. We do not therefore have the emotional capacity to mourn all who die in this world and to scream at all the wickedness that weaves so deeply through every culture. But while our tears are reserved for Western nations, the rest of the world is right to be suspicious of us
There is an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlett is troubled by a genocide unfolding in a African nation. During a conversation with a staffer he asks, “Why is a Kuhndunese life worth less to me than an American life?” To which the advisor answered, ‘I don’t know, Sir, but it is.’
Why is it, we feel the grief and anger from Paris and Brussels, and not of Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey?
Until we can say ‘I am Turkey’ and ‘I am Pakistan’, we again prove the prejudice of our humanity. And yet can we even dare to speak such seemingly supercilious words to those who have suffered so much?
Last year I made the observation that where the cultural and historical links are closer, there is often a greater outpouring of responses. Perhaps we should not be surprised therefore that more attention is given to our European friends than to others. Then again, perhaps our compassion stems from a vulnerability which emerges from seeing in those Western cities a mirror into our own way of life.
In other words, we empathise with those who are most like us. In contrast, consider the way Easter defines God’s condescension toward humanity. The explosion that has killed so many people in Lahore will one day be silenced by the Easter message which those people had gathered to celebrate. Easter reminds us of God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16)
God showed love not by changing a few coloured light bulbs or by trending a hashtag on twitter; the depth of this love of God was the substitutionary death of his only Son. God came into his own, the incarnation. He paid the penalty for human insurrection, the cross. He triumphed over the grave, thus vindicating his claim of Divinity and the efficacy of his salvific power, the resurrection.
The extent of this love of God is for the world. John 3:16 does not suggest a universal salvation, for the text makes clear that faith in Jesus is necessary and rejecting Jesus Christ results in judgement. Nonetheless, in Christ, God has expressed extraordinary love for the world. He is not of or for the West, he is not English speaking or the God of the middle class, his concern is global. The Bible describes this God in ways unparalleled in any religion and in ways more tangible, and with a good news message that is changing hearts and lives in every nation on earth:
In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4)
“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)
Many Western societies, including our own, are turning our backs on Christianity; to our spiritual, moral, and intellectual detriment. After centuries of economic, political, technological and military progress we have gained the world, but lost our souls. But in many of these very nations who are witnessing such horrific slaughter, Christianity is growing. In these lands the reality of Easter resonates louder and more true than the wimpish silence of the West who either do not share the desire or have the capacity to be one with them and for them.
’16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.’ (John 3:16-21)