The Associated Press is reporting this morning that German authorities have identified and are searching for a suspect in the attack on a Berlin Christmas market. Yesterday, ISIS claimed responsibility for this tragedy. But why would they attack Berlin? What did Christmas shoppers in Germany do to provoke Islamic extremists?
Why did a police officer murder a Russian diplomat in Ankara, Turkey? The gunman shouted “Allahu akbar [God is the greatest]. Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!” But what did this diplomat do to him or to Muslims? Why kill him while he spoke rather than before or after his speech?
Terrorists seek to terrorize. The Berlin attack was staged when the most people would be in the market during one of the central holidays of the Christmas tradition. The Ankara attack was staged when the cameras would be rolling and the largest audience would see the murder.
Osama bin Laden chose some of the most public and symbolic buildings in America as targets for his 9/11 attack. The July 2016 truck attack in Nice, France targeted Bastille Day (the French equivalent to our July 4) when huge crowds would be watching an aerial display by the French Air Force. The Tsarnaev brothers chose to attack the Boston Marathon, one of the most visible events in the city all year.
What does the terrorists’ strategy mean for us this Christmas? Consider three imperatives.
One: Be prepared.
Terrorists have demonstrated their ability to attack anywhere at any time. Proving this fact is part of their motivation. While authorities are doing all they can to protect us, we must be ready as well. The Department of Homeland Security advises us to
“run, hide, fight.” Run from an attack if you can, hide if you cannot, and fight back if you must.
The same imperative applies to us spiritually. No one is promised tomorrow. Scripture teaches that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Jonathan Edwards resolved that “I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.” Live every day prepared to meet God, because one day you will.
Live every day prepared to meet God, because one day you will.
Two: Be global.
The atrocities in Syria inspired the murder in Ankara. America’s support for Israel was part of the motivation behind 9/11. The day when oceans protected us from the world is gone.
Writing for Foreign Affairs, esteemed scholar Joseph S. Nye Jr. notes that the US remains the world’s leading superpower, spending four times more on our military than China. However, such power cannot stop every terrorist attack. We need global economic, diplomatic, and social solutions for the challenges that foster terrorism.
The same is true for followers of Jesus. We should each have a personal Acts 1:8 strategy to reach our Jerusalem, area, and world. The ultimate answer to terrorism is transformation in Christ.
Three: Be redemptive.
Terrorism reminds us of our mortality. No one in the path of the Berlin truck was safe, no matter their youth, health, or wealth. When tragedy strikes, people who are otherwise callous to faith begin looking for answers. That’s why we need to report for Kingdom duty every day, asking the Spirit to take control of our lives (Ephesians 5:18) and making ourselves available to those the Lord entrusts to our witness.
God’s word is clear: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). Always.