I saw a cartoon printed on a newspaper page one day this week. It was divided into two frames: the one on the left featured a presenter on television asking the question to the viewer: How can we relieve ourselves from the fear and anxieties of our current affairs and situations? The frame on the right showed the smiling viewer having just turned off the television. Sometimes I feel that I'm with the viewer. Day in, day out, I can't escape the bombardment of the recent Paris atrocities spooned into us from the TV, radio, newspapers bought at a newsagents, or browsed online. Just when I need to get on with life, we remain constantly reminded.
Don't get me wrong, what happened on that fateful Friday has to be taken seriously. I feel full sympathy for all the families of those killed and those severely injured. Then again, the Paris bombing took place during the evening of Friday November 13th. Many consider Friday the 13th to be a very unlucky day, especially for traveling. So I can imagine myself boarding an airline that Friday morning, checking into a hotel by mid-to-late afternoon, then that evening set out "to paint the town red" - that is, to enjoy the diversity of entertainments on offer, and not to shed or spill blood!
Later that evening, several gunmen burst into the club I happen to be in and shoots, taking many casualties. Friday 13th has struck full time. Fortunately I escape, and make my way back to the airport several days later, trembling from head to foot, deciding never to travel on Friday 13th again. Superstition, yes - to you maybe and perhaps for me as well, just silly superstition. Or was it? Were the terrorists aware of our extra caution taken on Friday 13th? Was our superstition known to them? After all, Friday 13th was also a title of a successful big-screen movie released in 1980, with eleven more installments until the latest version was released in 2009, the 12th so far. Even if the movie was banned from being shown in the Middle East, surely it would have been impossible for it to be shown across the Western world without somehow attracting their attention.
Superstition is based on fear, the fear that something bad might happen in the near future. Like the apprehension I feel about magpies. By walking or cycling, but never driving, (I don't have a licence) if I see a single magpie, alone and without a companion, tension arises. I then tend to recite something like, It's only a bird, created by God, in whom I trust. If I see two magpies, (as I often do) then I tend to feel a sense of relief that something good will happen. But even then, I remind myself that God is sovereign, and all good things comes from him, and not from the two birds. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the magpie superstition, here in the UK we use to have a ditty:
One for Sorrow, Two for Joy. Three for a Girl, Four for a Boy. Ma-a-a-a-agpie!
And this song was the theme for a children's programme of the same title broadcast on TV during the 1960's, at the peak of my schooldays, and it was ITV's rival to the more popular BBC show Blue Peter. But by becoming familiar with the song, an awareness about the bird began to develop which wouldn't have done otherwise. But any reasonable person can blow holes through the superstition. Sure enough, I have seen three magpies together, and I have three daughters. But I have also seen four of the birds together, but I still have no sons. But what about if I see five or more together? Does that mean anything? Or supposing I pass by just one bird, but turn a corner and behold, there is another. What would be in for me? Sorrow or Joy? And what about one or two pigeons, robins, or for that matter, a hawk, night owl, or eagle? Don't they have any superstitious powers? What of a variety of these birds together at a certain area? Would the one magpie among a flock of seagulls bring sorrow? Or would two magpies among pigeons bring me joy?
Perhaps the same with astrology. The stars column appears in all newspapers and magazines, or at least it used to anyway. These daily or weekly personal predictions are very generalised, and can mean a host of happenings. I have once read that they are mainly computer-generated, a long list of data stored in memory, and each for the twelve signs of the zodiac is taken from the database at random. Normally the devotee does not notice that his day's reading had already appeared under another sign some months previously. But I have also heard stories of these predictions coming true to those who believe in them. One of these stories included a church leader in America who wanted to demonstrate to his congregation that astrology is nonsense. So he began to read them each day to prove his point. To his horror, his readings began to come true. He had no alternative but to drop to his knees and confess his sin to God before he was set free from its power.
But is there a common link between superstition and religion-inspired terrorism? I think there is, and it's fear. Fear of the future, fear of Hell, the want of salvation. The attacks, of course, could also be revenge for the bombings and military action in the Middle East, and also for the support in the West for the State of Israel. But aside of these things, I believe that the want of salvation is the bedrock for not only Islam, but for all religions.
It had the same effect on Christianity over the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church had its Inquisition, when those who disagree with its teachings were branded "heretics" and were tortured on the Rack and other dreadful instruments. We can't deny that the Church of Rome has blood on its hands. One notable example was the execution of Bishops Ridley and Latimer, both burnt alive at a stake in Oxford on October 16th, 1555. They were just two among multiple thousands of men, women and children who were executed for posing a threat to Roman theology. When Martin Luther first believed in Justification by Faith alone, taken from Romans 1:17, the Catholic Church was up in arms, and called for the Council of Trent during the mid 1550's to reaffirm that salvation is infused into the sinner by the grace of God, and must be sustained by human effort, including participation in Church ritual and catechism. This "salvation by works" combined with the denial of the Cross, along with the fear of Hellfire, has been the basic cause for relentless persecution over the centuries, including warring conflict between Catholics and Muslims throughout the Crusader days of the 11th Century. Really, coming to think of it, men of faith has always suffered persecution by those who think they can make their own way to God. From the time when Cain murdered Abel, all the way through to the stoning of Stephen by the Jews, the killing of the apostles and many other believers, right through to the present day.
|The Church of St Peter, Vatican City|
And as the bloodshed by the Catholic Church recede into history, I see people of the present throwing up their arms at the horror of the recent massacre in Paris, carried out by the Islamic State. Cries that this terrorist group is posing a threat to our national security and calling for the Syrian refugees not to be let into the UK, I believe, will not solve the problem. As long that there are people who believe that salvation can be earned, then I think that social unrest and persecution will continue. Also I believe bombing the Islamic State to oblivion will only cause the rise of other groups to carry out revenge attacks in the future, with their belief that their acts will earn them a place in Heaven.
This may seem odd to you as one reading this, and you may not even agree, but my awareness of the magpie, the popularity of astronomy, and the practice of religion (not just Islam) all boils down to fear and insecurity. Whether its fear of what might happen tomorrow in this life or what eternity holds for us after death, fear holds sway in them all. I also believe that this same fear can rise among true believers in Jesus Christ as well. Thoughts such as, Did I believe the right way? or Did God really save me when I asked Jesus into my heart? or If I'm truly saved, then why am I still committing sins? or even Can I sin myself out of my salvation?
Lately, I have been reading posts and blogs posted by those who have an inkling for Universal Salvation. I have to admit, I find these blogs incredibly edifying, even causing me to think, Wow! If only this is true, that God was in Christ, reconciling the whole world to himself, not counting their sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). God being seen as so loving to helpless mankind that although the first Adam brought sin and death to many, how much more has the second Adam brought eternal life to many? (Romans 5:12-21) This gives the impression that if the work of the first Adam brought death to "the many" - by asking how much more has the second Adam brought life to "the many" - that the work of Christ exceeded that of Adam on a quantitative scale, a basis for Universal Salvation. Really, I wish that the idea of a fiery Hell could be eradicated from our minds, to love and serve a wonderful God totally without fear or apprehension. It is thought by them that if the second "all men" - found in verse 18 - and if the second "the many" - found in verse 19 - are not the same as the first "all men" - found in verse 18 nor the first "the many" - found in verse 19, this must mean that each of these two sets of the same words have different meanings.
But wonderful is the idea of Universal Salvation looks to be, I do find problems with it, and that could be the reason why the apostle adds a condition found in verse 17 where it says, "those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness" seem to indicate true believers only. But there is more to this. When I consider the evil these terrorists have done - alongside the acts of pedophiles, impatient drivers, fraudsters, thieves emptying your bank account, burglars invading and wrecking your home, those who committed murder, and even snobbish people, isn't it true that the thought of them going to Heaven after death seem insulting to the spirit? Would you rather see them get their comeuppance instead?
But here is where I believe the wisdom of God is different from ours and much greater. His desire is to bring these people to himself, and he has given us believers the privilege of such a commission. There are times that I wish that I could enter a room filled with these terrorists, ready to go out to kill every non-Muslim, and to tell them that the difference between Jesus Christ and Mohammed is that it was Jesus Christ who laid down his own life to atone for our sins, was buried, and on the third day rose bodily from the dead, and he is now sitting fully alive at his Father's throne in Heaven. Mohammed did not die for your sins, but died like any other man, and his bones are with us to this day, buried in Medina. This is a full denial to the popular belief that Mohammed rode to heaven on a horse from Jerusalem. By repenting (changing their minds about Jesus Christ and accepting him as their Saviour and therefore, God) they too can receive eternal life and enjoy totally changed hearts.
That is the true solution to all the world's problems, including fear and terrorism, along with false religions. The turning of the human heart towards God our Saviour through faith in Jesus Christ.
And appreciating his creation, including the magpie.