You were not on that beach in Tunisia …

… but the events there have changed you
And you were not in that church in Charleston, but the events there have changed you

Break-dancer to beach bomber

So a young man who enjoys hip-hop music, is spoken of highly in his home town, and is completely unknown to local security forces become willing and able to kill 38 people on a sunny beach.

A lot of people have written about radicalisation, where one individual is “re-configured from the inside”, but few people have said anything about how acts of terror affect and change all of us observing them from afar. You were thankfully not on that beach, but you are affected; you are changed. Whenever a new level of depravity is reached I believe we are changed, and not for the better.

Tunisia beach

Things we don’t want to know

A generation ago the idea of the now customary suicide bomber was outside our frame of thought. Similarly the idea of an innocent person being be-headed and videos of this being widely available simply never occurred to us – why would it? Of course there have been cases of brutality in the past, particularly in war time, but we are less affected by these because of the elapse of time and the fact that the acts however repugnant were committed in a time of conflict, they were not “normal”.

And it’s not just terrorists who come up with previously un-thought of acts of horror. Some years ago I remember watching with complete disbelief as the saga of Josef Fritzel unfolded in the news. In 1984 Fritzel lures his 15 year old daughter Elizabeth into a specially built room in the cellar and traps her there. For 24 years he visits her approx. twice a week and routinely rapes her. She gives birth to 7 children some of whom live in this dark world until their teens, when the authorities are finally made aware of the cellar.

I honestly wish I didn’t know what this man did, but I do and I can’t erase it. The very idea that a human being could do this has entered my consciousness for the first time. A new depth has been plumbed. – I see the bar for human behaviour has been set even lower.

knowledge of good and evil

So whenever there will be a new act where somebody somewhere enacts a hitherto unimagined scene of inhumanity, as well as the acts themselves, what is disturbing is the “knowledge” of these acts which becomes part of us. We are in a long-term process of desensitisation where we almost expect appalling acts of violence, we are not that surprised by them, and, if we are not careful we are less troubled by them. It is the knowledge of good and evil which at one time we were guarded from, but now the reins are off – we have a familiarity with evil we never had, and never wanted.

God’s image within us needs to be cultivated

We need to care for the God given sensitivity which is central to the image of God placed in each of us. But how do we do that? How do we literally nurture God’s image within us? We can do something.

When an evil-minded or deranged individual takes the lives of those around them, apart from any practical help we may be able to offer, we need to make sure we make time to grieve for those affected, and confess and repent of the damaged nature of all our race, our kind. Doing this in prayer and in conversation will slowly restore you for the better, it will move you in the opposite direction to the collective knowledge of atrocities with their desensitising impact.

Doing something physical to change our thinking is a scriptural principle. For example through our actions we can develop a deeper sense of love. Think about this. Loving our neighbour does not mean we like them. We have to love people we don’t get on with and we do this by our actions, by our deeds. “Doing kindness” and praying for people we don’t really like opens up our heart so that God can change how we think – and often we actually do end up liking them.

So next time you hear of an act of atrocity and you are tempted to cocoon yourself, to switch off the news and not think about it; don’t.

God's image in us

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion” Colossians 3.12; or: put on the clothes God picked out for you – even if you don’t feel like wearing them.

Chris Goswami is Director of Marketing for a Silicon Valley based company and a Minister In Training in the UK Baptist Church. His personal site is www.7minutes.net.

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