Thoughts About Terrorism: How does it affect us?
by Sam Geli, November 17, 2015: Security is an illusion and life only consists of helpless attempts at subduing the inevitable. At this point no one can any longer have any doubts that the most recent terrorism in Paris only represents the beginning of escalating violence and that an end cannot anywhere near be predicted. As an informed Seventh-day Adventist Christian, one should ask oneself when and where this nightmare will continue, and how soon something similar is going to happen again.
We try to cope by pointing out how all these tragic events point towards the fulfillment of prophecy and how Biblical prophecies are preparing us for even worse tragedies to come. Yet there is an emotional detachment that tells us that no matter how bad things may get we are somehow “above the fray” because we have the “playbook,” the “strategy”, and we know how this story ultimately ends.
It is extremely unlikely that the assassinations in Paris are not going to leave their mark on all of us. It was just too close to our personal reality of life, too easy for us to identify with the victims. Of course, we are daily overwhelmed with pictures depicting violence, horror and terror. Then the never-ending fighting in the Middle East -the incessantly wounded and dead, as well. By comparison it is easier for us dealing with these horrors – by now we have learned to distance ourselves with the aid of reliably established strategies. The further away, the more easily we can manage to be detached and ignore them. When it involves an established war – or civil war region – we don’t expect any different reports any longer, anyway. We think, “Well, that’ll work itself out … or, don’t ‘they‘ have control of the situation yet?” and then we turn the page to the next story.
I obviously don’t mean this to be morally justified when we are any less touched by the misery of others just because it does not immediately involve our own life’s daily reality. On the other hand, “thanks” to our exposure to global networking media and having to live with a multitude of disturbing and shocking reports from all over the world we develop certain psychological protective mechanisms. If we were to let anything get equally close to us without it, our psyche and intellect would be totally incapable to continue functioning halfway normally.
Where the assassinations in Paris and their consequences are concerned it appears that exactly these protective safeguards have suddenly been inactivated. 9/11 happened right in our midst, in the heart of New York City, during everyday life. The victims in all of these tragedies included women and children – all suffering unimaginable fear. All of us are confused about a world virtually or actually currently exploding on all corners. Where no stone is left standing and everything one has envisioned of one’s life appears to be challenged. For many there is no personal security any longer, although it hadn’t really been thought about that much but had been assumed.
I very much doubt that all of us are that calm and emotionally strong were we sitting privately and all alone in our room. After everything that happened I doubt that we can (and should) simply return to the order of the day in that way. Particularly people who are already beset by anxiety disorders or depressions before the terrorists struck may well have been further de-stabilized by these events. But then many people thus far not suffering from these problems may possibly now sense their own nervous tension or agitation, even concrete anxiety symptoms: insomnia, disproportionately strong reactions to stress situations, a subliminal testiness, problems with concentrating . . . whatever.
For many people it will be sufficient to share their anxieties with family members or friends in order to process them or find a way to deal with them. And that is essentially my point today: if this does not apply to you, if the assassinations in Paris for whatever reason have left you with lasting effects, then you should take that seriously and err on the side of caution by consulting with professionals in order to cope with these events. This is not a sign of weakness; it is an indication of strength and your personal sense of responsibility.
Most of us have a hard time knowing what to say when someone has experienced a great tragedy. As Seventh-day Adventist Christians who are also Americans, we aren’t that good at grief, loss, and mourning. On the other hand, we’re really good at hope, optimism, and resilience, and at seeing the “silver lining.” We are great at sharing well-meaning platitudes. As Adventists we need to be better listeners. We should avoid any sentence that starts with the words, “At least…” As in, “At least you’re still alive… At least you have insurance … At least you saved a few things…” No, emphatically no! Believe me, “At least…” is one of the worst things someone can hear at a time like this. People who have had a great loss are trying to understand what they’ve lost, to somehow take in the enormity of the situation. Trying to make them feel grateful in the midst of tragedy is not compassionate. I beg of you, if you find yourself saying, “At least…” just stop right there. We have lots of scriptural and Ellen G. White quotes at our disposal for any crisis. But all too often, our quotes or scriptures of comfort, born out of compassion, actually hurt those we are trying to help.
In coping with the aftermath of terror we should avoid making it all a discussion of faith. In times of great loss, faith is often questioned. Your whole world has just been blown apart, and you may not be so sure about God’s role in any of it. So even if you attend the same church, practice the same faith, or feel like you’re pretty sure of your own or others’ religious beliefs, try not to assume or automatically go there when you’re comforting yourself or someone else. It may only make you or them feel worse about what’s happening.
In reacting to any tragedy, don’t remain silent. Many of us struggle with what to say, or worry that we’ll say the wrong thing, so we don’t say anything. This is awkward and unsettling for someone who’s experiencing great loss. You know they know, and you’re waiting for them to say something, and then they don’t, and it makes everything worse. What do you say, then? Say just two things: “I’m so, so sorry. How I can help?” That’s all there is to say – then just BE with them. Hold their hand and cry with them. Bring them food and blankets and gift cards and Kleenex and listen, really listen to them when they are telling you just how broken they feel. Just be there.
When horrible things happen, what we really want to know is that people love us and are there for us. We want to know that we’re not alone, and not forgotten. In the days following a terrible tragedy, we don’t want to talk about the silver lining, or to get into deep discussions about God’s will, destiny, national pride, or karma. We’re damaged, in shock, and in terrible pain. We just need love.
Sam Geli has served as an Adventist pastor in California and Arizona, theology professor in Argentina, and principal of three academies, as well as a chaplain and chaplain educator. He and his wife, Sandi, have two adult children. Now partially retired, he is director of Professional Instruction for Ministry (PIM), an organization that offers apprenticeships for chaplains.