November 21, 2015

Getting to the Heart of the Paris Tragedy

Editor’s note: News commentaries are intended to express the richness and variety of informed and responsible Adventist opinion on current issues. They do not necessarily convey the viewpoint of the Adventist Review editorial team or the General Conference.

, youth director, Caucasus Union Mission in the Euro-Asia Division

No sooner had Russia and the rest of the world started to come to grips with the probability that a terrorist bomb had brought down a Russian plane, killing all 224 people on board as it flew from Egypt to Russia, than two new tragedies linked to the same notoriously violent Islamic State militant group unfolded in Beirut and Paris.

Twin suicide bombers killed 43 people in the Lebanese capital last week. Then two days later, on Friday night, 129 people died in a series of shootings and explosions in the French capital.

Our hearts shudder at the loss of all those innocent lives. One thought cries out: Why?

Experts are divided on the reasons for the horrifying violence. Alan Krueger argues in his book What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism that that poverty and unemployment are not key motivators and terrorists are mainly driven by an idea. But Efraim Benmelech, an economist and finance professor at Northwestern University, identifies unemployment as the main factor, saying countries with high unemployment are more likely to have young people who join radical groups.

Russian politician Aslambek Aslakhanov, a leading expert on Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus region, points the finger at bribery, embezzlement, and other forms of corruption. The result, he says, are low living standards and high social tensions, a perfect storm for creating radical Islam.

Still other experts see a financial factor in terror. They accuse some government of creating or financing terrorist groups to destabilize oil-producing regions and manipulate oil prices.

These theories may all ring true. But they don’t tell the whole story. As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we can gain another perspective based on our understanding of the Bible.

One reason for the growing terror is a backlash against immorality. Some societies are changing rapidly, while others seek to uphold their traditional values. In those fast-changing societies, immoral behavior is increasingly becoming a social norm upheld by law.

Recent laws legalizing same-sex marriage in North America and European countries cannot but cause indignation among radical Islamists and others who adhere to traditional values.

In another example, children in some European schools are no longer taught traditional gender roles and a family no longer necessarily consists of a mother (a woman) and a father (a man). A buffet of new options is now available.

Mass culture is steeped in sexual overtones. You cannot escape the onslaught on television, in movie theaters, in music, and in show business.

Such an immersion in sin gives rise to opposition from people who find those morals foreign and distasteful.

The apostle Paul predicted this decay in morality and increase in violence: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5, NKJV).

Terrorism also appears to be a consequence of the unmet spiritual needs of young people.

Vasily Ivanov, a respected Russian researcher at the Volga Center of Regional and Ethnic-Religious Studies, says young people who join Islamic State are on a spiritual quest and harbor the romantic idea of engaging in a righteous war. “Recruiters search for such people,” he says.

That raises the question: Who is to blame for not helping young people meet their spiritual needs? Parents, churches, schools?

Perhaps the problem goes back to the idea that religious values have been forgotten by many societies. Maybe parents are too busy pursuing material gain to make time to provide children with religious education. Maybe Christian denominations are too busy caught up in internal and external arguments to teach biblical values to young people. Maybe young people need to see a walking, living example of a Christian rather than a list of doctrines. Maybe young people long for a real relationship with God rather than their parents’ religion.

Young people have always been searching. This is their greatest need at their tender age. So maybe it’s time to fulfill an ancient prophecy recorded in the book of Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Terrorism is not the way to fight against depravity in the world. Terrorists do not fit into any religion. They are monsters who lack common sense and any religious values, whether they are from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or somewhere else.

We may look to research to pinpoint the cause of terrorism on economics, psychology, the mistakes of politicians, or a host of other factors. And perhaps part of the cause lies in those areas. But rather than finding someone or something else to blame, let’s examine ourselves. Do we accept or promote immoral behavior because it is protected by laws? Do we invest our time in pursuing material gain rather than God?

The person who seeks to improve the world must first seek to change his or her own heart. Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Let’s ask God to transform our hearts so we can be walking, living examples of His love to everyone around us.