The memory of those awful events continues to haunt us and we begin by expressing our heartfelt sympathies with surviving witnesses of the atrocity and with bereaved relatives. Jesus Himself wept outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus and onlookers saw how much he loved him. May God grant that comfort in Christ that is so sorely needed.
It is not our purpose to start thinking about how the terrorists were able to get away with such wickedness on a human level. We certainly see the depth of sin as such things are planned in detail, and we see the impotence of even the best government to prevent it. There are far deeper questions. Where was God? Was He unable to prevent it? If He was not unable then why did He let it happen? Can there be any good purpose in such a thing?
We are so affected by what happened because it has come home to so powerfully. It happened on Kenyan soil, it specifically targeted non-Muslims, and there were mobile phone conversations as it happened. Yet, sad to say, history is littered with such massacres. Boko Haram has been slaughtering thousands in northern Nigeria. Little more than 20 years ago 800 thousand are reckoned to have been killed in Rwanda. During WWII 6 million Jews suffered in what is known as the Holocaust. 2015 marks the centenary of what many call the Armenian genocide when around 1 million or more perished.
Let us not pretend we have all the answers. The mysteries of why such things happen go right back to the very start when Adam and Eve fell, and the whole human race with them. God made a creation that He described as “very good”. Why did sin come in to spoil it? And the evil consequences remain with us today! Was God just an observer, unable to control creatures He had made, Satan, and the first couple? You do not get rid of the problem by declaring that God gave them ‘free-will’. At the very least surely God knew what they were going to do, for He is omniscient. He could have prevented the serpent from getting near Eve, or made it unable to speak, or used another animal to speak opposite words; in fact He left Eve completely to herself.
No, we must rather confess 3 things: God has all power (omnipotent), and all knowledge (omniscient), and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and past finding out (Romans 11:33). God has purposes of judgment as well as blessing, of warning as well as comforting, purposes for the future as well as for the present, for others as well as for myself, for His own glory as well as for our good. Read the Bible and see how God perfectly weaves together all events, both good and evil, to fulfil His gracious plans that finally brought His Son our Lord Jesus Christ into the centre stage of world history. You do not have to understand how the weaver so expertly manages his loom in order to appreciate the finished product!
Even if we do not have all the answers, there are some very important things we must say about which we have no doubt.
(1) God is just, despite what has happened. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25), proclaimed Abraham when God revealed to him that He was about to destroy Sodom. Measured on the time line of eternity, and weighed in the balances of God’s law, God never acts unjustly in punishment, although He acts mercifully times without number.
(2) Sinners deserve eternal hell, whether those carrying out atrocities, or those on the receiving end. Sin is nothing less than rebellion against God. David confessed his adultery as “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,…” (Psalm 51:5). Adam was threatened with death (Genesis 2:17); Ezekiel reiterated that “the soul who sins shall die” (18:4); the New Testament teaches “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23); and the last book of the Bible tells us of “the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14). It is this death as hell, as separation from God, that our Saviour had to undergo on the cross, as He cried out of the darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Anything we experience less than this is less than we deserve.
(3) The response must be repentance. Jesus was told of a massacre and this was His warning. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-3). We must stop asking the question ‘Why?’ because we do not have all the answers. We must not suppose that such an awful death is a punishment for specific sin, because Christ denies it. We must stop just focussing on what happened, or those who were involved. Jesus says that we must start to think about ourselves and our readiness to face the judgment when we are summoned sooner or later from this world. Someone might say that this is not very kind, that much more comforting words need to be given. But apart from the fact that would be to impugn Christ Himself, consider that such a warning is great kindness. If during the post-election violence you were warned not to go to a certain place because of trouble there would you not have been profoundly grateful. The Lord Jesus, who infallibly knows all things present and future, had graciously warned you.
(4) The Christian has great hope. Thank God that all those who die in Christ, have the assurance of eternal life (John 10:28). Death is but a short sleep for them, when they are absent from the body but present with the Lord. The terrorist’s bullet may kill their body but it cannot kill their soul. For this reason Christ told us to love our enemies and not to fear them. Christianity is the only religion that gives this assurance of resurrection, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).