March 23, 2017

December 15, 2014

Islamic Atrocities, the “Narrative of Redemption” and Christmas

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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RE: “There is no Jihad in following Jesus. All the struggle is done for us.”

Love this line—thanks for the article.

I am so sorry for the people of Sydney, the two dead hostages, and their families.  Just awful.

[1] Posted by Sarah on 12-15-2014 at 10:42 PM · [top]

My husband has visited Sydney and thought the scene looked familiar.  May God comfort the city and the families of those who died.  May God receive the souls of the two innocents who were killed.  The gunman has also seen God, but it has not been what he was expecting.

Islam is justification by works, a harsh and unyielding and often bloody way.  The juxtaposition of that harsh desert faith on a black flag over “Merry Christmas” in the window is very telling.  God does not hate you or demand atrocities of you.  God loves you!

[2] Posted by Katherine on 12-16-2014 at 08:46 AM · [top]

[3] Posted by AndrewA on 12-16-2014 at 03:34 PM · [top]

If Muslims are really interested in a merciful God, Jesus is looking for them.

[4] Posted by Nikolaus on 12-16-2014 at 10:29 PM · [top]

Exactly. You said it better than I ever could. All I can add is a hearty amen. Jesus is the answer. The older I get the more I realize how true that statement really is. He is the answer to every question and every problem found in human nature. In particular, he stands square in the way of our worst human impulse which is to distrust in anyone outside of ourselves and to want to “do it” all by ourselves. He says Be still. I have done it all for you. You have only to trust in me. To try and obey him in that is the hardest thing you or I will ever attempt to do.

[5] Posted by StayinAnglican on 12-17-2014 at 11:39 AM · [top]

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 13:19)

[6] Posted by Fr. Dale on 12-17-2014 at 11:08 PM · [top]

It has been a sad time.  I walked past the Lindt café twice on Monday morning, less than 10 minutes before the gunman struck.  There are probably dozens of lawyers in Sydney CBD did the same - the café is a short distance from several barristers chambers, the Supreme Court and the Federal Court. 

Some musings:

1.  Everyone from journalists to the Prime Minister are determinedly not mentioning religion in connection with this incident.  Errr no, this IS about religion. 

The argument used by some is that they want to avoid somehow inciting problems for moderate Muslims.  But that doesn’t wash:  most Australians aren’t stupid - we don’t assume that just because e.g. an Anglican commits a crime therefore all Anglicans commit crimes, nor do we assume it about Muslims.  But that doesn’t mean that if an Anglican were to cite Anglicanism as an inspiration for his crimes that that fact should not be discussed.

I get the impression that all of these commentators are really trying to defend their own liberal beliefs, i.e. they don’t want to mention religion because THEY don’t want to be confronted with how this incident clashes with their own fond belief that religion really doesn’t matter.  (The Prime Minister is not a liberal, but a devout and sincere Roman Catholic, but he can still be misguided).

2.  It is reported that Lindt recently declined to renew Halal certification for its products.  The representative of a Halal certification group is said to have left the café shortly before the gunman struck.  I don’t know if there is actually any connection with the hostage taking and murder.  Regardless, many Australians are now saying they will consciously buy Lindt and other non-Halal certified products.  Good.

3.  The mass of floral tributes left in Martin Place is huge.  This isn’t planned or official – people just started doing it.

Best wishes to all for Christmas.  May the Lord protect and bless us, and bring us all safely to him at last.

[7] Posted by MichaelA on 12-18-2014 at 03:35 AM · [top]

Yes, absolutely terrible events in Pakistan.  Rachel mourns for her children.

[8] Posted by MichaelA on 12-18-2014 at 03:38 AM · [top]

I don’t understand the logistics of the police intervention. The shooter was plainly visible through the window. Why didn’t the police shoot him when that opportunity presented itself?

[9] Posted by Fr. Dale on 12-18-2014 at 07:38 AM · [top]

Fr. Dale,

That was my first thought as I watched on TV.  Clearly there was an excellent opportunity for a police sniper to take the fellow out.  Goodness knows, there were enough heavily armed police around.

[10] Posted by evan miller on 12-18-2014 at 03:02 PM · [top]

Hi Fr Dale, a fair question and of course I don’t actually know the answers.  However here are a few things that spring to mind:

My recollection is that the gunman was only plainly visible in the first few minutes of the siege, and after that he had hostages against the windows - I might be wrong in that, but its just what I recall. At that time: (a) did they know he was the gunman? (the reason I ask is that I recall the media at least were not clear on whether that person was, when that photo was shown) (b) did they know he was alone? (the reason I ask is that there was a lot of speculation in the morning that there was more than one) (c) did they know whether he or anyone else was wired?

Even if you know for sure who the gunman is, and that he is alone, and that there are no explosives involved, there is also the ballistics of a bullet passing through security glass windows.  You can do it cleanly if you strike at precisely 90 degrees, but I understand that is rather complex to work out, even for a skilled sniper due to trajectory, barrel whip, cold barrel, maybe other factors.  I do believe that these days teflon coated bullets and the like can improve your prospects of getting a straight passage through the glass but its still not an exact science, and if the bullet breaks up on impact with the glass, then you’ve got a spalled fragment (or possibly more than one) flying about inside, which can itself be lethal, and no way to predict its flight.  Or, you can increase your prospects by using a large calibre rifle, .50cal or whatever, which also increases your prospect of the round continuing on through the internal wall to other people still trying to get out of the next-door place, or the police on the far side.  Another prospect is that the heavy round will ricochet off the far wall and bounce around inside. 

Just my thoughts, but I really don’t know what decisions were taken or why.

[11] Posted by MichaelA on 12-18-2014 at 03:09 PM · [top]

Thank you for these reports, MichaelA.  I had not heard about the halal certification issue.  Good for Lindt, and good for Australians who will not bend to these demands.  Food producers and restaurants should be free to offer specialty products or not as they choose.

May the Lord bless you.

[12] Posted by Katherine on 12-18-2014 at 08:57 PM · [top]

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