Lahore attacks: How should Christians respond?

Security officials at the site of the blastReuters

More than 70 people dead. At least 300 injured. The Pakistani Taliban ensured that on Easter Sunday 70 lives were extinguished. 300 lives changed for the worse. Thousands of friends' and families' lives altered for ever.

And for what?

Not for any noble cause. Not for an end to oppression or in the cause of a just war. Simply for the glorification of death. Killing and maiming was the goal here and it was achieved on a mighty scale. You can be sure that those who planned this attack were gorging themselves on the media coverage of their death festival. It's what gets them out of bed in the morning. How can we cause pain? How can we bring misery? How can we extinguish life and joy and hope wherever we see it?

It's a cult. A cult which worships at the altar of death. A cult which doesn't just kill, but enjoys killing. It lives to bring death.

They struck at Easter. They struck the defenceless Christians of Pakistan, persecuted repeatedly, horrifically and in many cases without a word from the international community.

They struck at Easter because they know what they're doing. When could they target women and children? When could they cause maximum destruction? When could they bring death to the TV screens of so many around the world?

They struck at Easter. In an amusement park. They knew what they were doing. We know what they were doing. They were saying that the death they worship is stronger than the life that these dear Christian sisters and brothers were celebrating.

My instinct is to respond in kind. If they want death, give them death. Let's attack. Let's call up the 82nd Airborne, the RAF, the forces of NATO and rout them. Forget Pakistani sovereignty - get out of the way while we attack. Let's go beyond Ted Cruz's call for carpet bombing, beyond Donald Trump's plan to kill terrorists' families, and do the full Ann Coulter: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

I don't want justice. I want vengeance.

Let's hunt them down and give them the death they so obviously want. Let's give them a taste of their own medicine. Let's stand up for all the innocent lives lost in Lahore yesterday. The lives lost in Lahore churches a year ago. The lives lost in Peshawar three years ago. The life of Salman Taseer, murdered for protecting Christians. The life of Shahbaz Bhatti – murdered for being a Christian. Let's avenge their deaths with such merciless violence that the message goes out loud and clear – if you ever lay a finger on our people again – you're done for. You're finished.

And yet, and yet...

Just when I've pumped myself up to the full height of the sureness of my righteousness and, let's face it, arrogance, I hear a still small voice.

It's the voice of the man who was being celebrated by those Christians in Pakistan yesterday – and indeed by millions of us around the world.

The voice is speaking the words that He used on the cross on Good Friday. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

It's easy to skip over this line, in our familiarity with the account of Jesus' death. Yet we mustn't. It's a world-changing concept. It's a reproach to my desire for vengeance and my inclination to see the perpetrators of the crime in Lahore eviscerated.

Jesus, the only man without sin, the only one who had never done anything deserving a punishment was being put to death in the most cruel way ever invented by humans. He was the victim of a repressive power which makes The Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS look mild. The vicious fury of the Roman Empire was poured out on Him – even though He was entirely innocent. But in His agony, He cries out to God to forgive those who were perpetrating the suffering. Astonishing.

Shahbaz BhattiWikimedia

If this is the God we worship, how then can vengeance be our watchword? It can have no place on our agenda. Justice, yes, but vengeance, no. That's another religion altogether. You can't follow the Jesus who forgives His executioners and still want vengeance.

Ah, but this is different, you might say... Christians are being targeted deliberately, repeatedly, around the world. We need to teach the terrorists a lesson. I see the attraction of this, but Jesus has pre-empted this approach. In Matthew 18, Peter came to Jesus and asked, "'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?'Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'"

The Christian model of justice doesn't demand that crimes remain unpunished or that we just ignore such atrocious acts as the Lahore attacks. In fact, we do need a strong response, to protect the most vulnerable from further harm – another key tenet of Jesus' ethic. Preventing terrorism is vital – and it's time the world spoke up loudly, clearly and with one voice that the persecution of Christians is an epidemic that must be stopped. But let's leave behind fantasies of vengeance. It's the harder way, the less instantly gratifying way. Ultimately though, it's the way to be Christian in the face of such tragedy.