Just a few bad men
Just three men. The atrocity at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris has traumatized a nation and shocked the world. The headline in this morning’s Le Figaro: “La France submergée par l’emotion.” In fact, even today – two days after the atrocity – the event still dominates the news not just in France but around the world. Vigils have been held in many cities across the globe. President Obama visits the French embassy in Washington to sign a book of condolences. By any standard, a major event with worldwide ramifications. And yet just the work – as far as we can see – of just three very determined men. Tragically they have achieved their objective. Such is the nature of our interconnected world that one individual can make a huge difference. I’ve just finished reading one of my Christmas presents, “The Churchill factor” by the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. I’m not in the Boris fan club and having read the book, I see no reason to change my mind. However, his central thesis is fascinating – that Winston Churchill, despite his many mistakes, some catastrophic, changed the course of world history single-handedly. If it wasn’t for him we would be living in a very different world. One key moment, for example, is on 24 May 1940 when Churchill stands up to the Tory establishment and refuses to even consider a negotiated settlement with a triumphant Hitler. Boris argues that only Churchill had the weight to do this. However, Churchill was a man of rare talent at the heart of the establishment. You could hardly say this of the alleged jihadists Said and Cherif Kouachi. The very opposite in fact – disaffected men from the shadows of French society. But they were competent and utterly ruthless, directed by the dominion of darkness. However, the one thing they do demonstrate, however tragically, is that individuals do matter. But there is more than meets the eye here – for we are not simply talking about human beings acting out their tortured dreams. We are talking about the spiritual forces at play behind the scenes, just beneath the surface. The apostle Paul could see this only too clearly, as he writes to the Ephesians: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (6:12) And it takes far more than a progressive social policy or an effective intelligence agency to counter this threat. For in spiritual warfare, as Paul goes on to outline, you need spiritual weapons: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, even the word of God. And our most powerful weapon is the one the world most ridicules: prayer. If nothing else this week we are reminded that we live on a battlefield. However, as Christians we are remarkably equipped for the fight, assured of the final outcome through Jesus’ victory at the cross.
But it’s one thing having the equipment, As Paul urges us - use it. Otherwise why would God have given us this resource? And we can make all the difference. It was Catherine of Siena who tells us: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”