I was 14 when Islamic terrorists attacked my school. In the years that followed, I was often physically overwhelmed by an anxiety that came from knowing I could never feel safe anymore.
As I read live updates from Paris last week, I felt that same cold, knotting fear climbing up my back and reaching around my neck.
Even though Louisville and Paris are thousands of miles apart, these attacks feel different—closer somehow. These terrorists brutally murdered people doing everyday things—going to a soccer match, a concert, a restaurant. Things you and I could’ve been doing. These attacks weren’t just on Parisians, in other words. They were attacks on normal life.
The point of terrorism—and what makes it appealing to those who cannot fight traditional-style battles—is to inject fear into others. To freeze economies by making people too afraid to go out shopping. To tear societies apart since people are too afraid to gather in public places. In short, the point is to make us too fearful to go about our daily lives.
For all the bravado or stiff upper lip we may put up against acts of terror, the fact is sometimes they work. Sometimes, they make us afraid.
But that fear—that uncertainty and hopelessness threatening to paralyze you—is the very thing God uses to strip away your confidence in this world.
Uncertainty of This World
Physical safety is so illusory, so fleeting. Once you sense this, you may suddenly discover parts of Scripture to be more relevant to your life than you thought. Ecclesiastes reminds us repeatedly of the brevity of human life, and how little control we have over our plans. James instructs us to say “Lord willing” as an expression of our dependence on God’s protection and provision in the fruition of our plans (James 4:13–14).
Hebrews was written to believers being beaten, imprisoned, and robbed (Heb. 10:32–34). In a sense, these were acts of terrorism—designed to teach the young Christians there was no guarantee of protection for their belongings or persons. And yet, these believers weren’t told to make themselves more secure. They weren’t told either to fight or to flee from the danger.
The Holy Spirit, through the author of Hebrews, tells us the ultimate response to physical uncertainty is to fix our eyes on Jesus—to go to him, outside the camp, and place our hope in an everlasting city, not earthly ones (Heb. 13:13–14).
Brothers and sisters, we’ve always lived in a dangerous world. In the same weekend of the Paris attacks there was a devastating massacre in Beirut. A funeral in Baghdad was bombed. A three-year-old in Charlotte was accidentally shot. And now an attack in Mali. This world threatens to undo us not just because we trust in Christ, but because sin has so tragically fractured it. Both world history and your own personal past reveal that the unpredictable, the unforeseen, the chaotic might be right around the corner. Even if you could flee the places that seem most dangerous, death and tragedy could still overtake you there. That’s why Jesus exhorts us not to fear those who can destroy the body, but only him who can destroy both body and soul (Matt. 10:28).
Fear is the natural human response to this kind of tragedy. French Muslims are afraid of how they’ll be seen. French secularists are afraid of losing not just their lives, but their country. People who’ve felt secure for a long time suddenly feel shaken to the core.
Certainty in One Place
But the Christian response to chaos is not to grab what we can see more tightly. All those things are fleeting. Nor is our response to fling our hands in the air and try not to worry since it’s out of our control anyway. No. Our response is to look to the one who governs the universe.
When terror grips you, your heart is likely believing, at some level, that God really isn’t in control, or that some things in life are more precious than the hope we have in Christ. The only way to fight that unbelief is to rehearse the gospel and fix your eyes on Jesus the King. That is the resounding counsel of his Word.
Our earthly security never lasts. But in Christ we have an inheritance, a security that will never be taken from us. This is the stunning position in which we stand. No, we cannot guarantee our own physical safety—much less that of our children, our friends, or our church. But we know one who guarantees something far greater than safety on earth. Trust that promise. Stand on the certainty that what matters most can never be taken away from you. Rest in the reality that our God is infinitely sovereign, infinitely wise, infinitely good—and therefore infinitely worthy of trust.