Yesterday proved to be one of the darkest days in Europe's recent history. The widespread terrorist attacks that killed at least 127 people across Paris left France, and the watching world, reeling in shock and horror. And when a moment this awful arrives – unannounced as ever – it can both grip us with despair and leave us clutching empty-handed for an appropriate way to respond.
From observing some of my wisest friends over the last few hours, I'd like to point to three kinds of immediate responses which I think are more than just ways of processing our own surprise and grief. All three are practical approaches that help us to respond practically and talk helpfully as the news dominates our hearts and minds in the coming days.
1. Show solidarity
The vast majority of us aren't personally affected by what happened in Paris, but many of us know people who are. Both on and offline, we'll engage with many people with a deep personal connection to France, and right now they're in need of human kindness, not a backdrop of opinion or political point-scoring. So let's put posters in our windows, lets fly the Tricolore; let's change profile pictures and display kind statuses. In moments of tragedy, a simple show of solidarity means so much more than wordy attempts to make sense of the situation.
2. Hold on to hope
As Christians, we're mandated to keep pointing to the light even when the world seems at its darkest. Many people on social media have latched on to a phenomenal quote from Dr Martin Luther King jr:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
To focus on hope right now is hard but ultimately compelling. It might seem like the obvious thing to say; an idea so often shared that we've almost become immune to its power. So as we process what has happened, let's keep reminding ourselves, over and over, that God has promised to "wipe away every tear" (Revelation 21 v 4); that "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1v 5). Believe it or not, there are many people who depend on us to point the way to hope in a moment like this.
3. Pray specifically
It's hard to know how to pray in the context of a situation so big, so perhaps the best idea is to focus on specifics. Let's pray for people: for those individuals fighting for their lives; for the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives; for the eyewitnesses and local residents struggling to process what has happened. And let's pray too for organisations: for the French and other international governments as they decide what to do as a result; and, while it may seem unthinkable, for the perpetrators – apparently now the terror group Islamic State – that they would turn from their horrific campaign of terror, perhaps due to the changed hearts of high ranking individuals.
Finally, here's a short prayer that may help you if words seem hard to come by.
We pray today for the people of Paris, that your presence would be tangible among them, and that your healing power would be at work.
We pray for those who are fighting for life, and for all those who've lost someone they love, that you, all-powerful God would even now begin the process of strengthening and restoring them.
We pray for ourselves, that you'd show us how to respond, how to support, how to show kindness and love, and how to continue to hope in the midst of such devastating news.
And most of all Lord, in a world where anger, war and hatred are often so prevalent, we pray that your peace would reign, and that your Kingdom would come. In Jesus' name,
Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape.