What do we feel about the Manchester bombing?

I had gone to bed fairly early, so not seen the news as it broke on Monday evening. But I had woken in the night, and when I looked at my phone I saw the item notified through the BBC news app. When we turned the radio on in the morning, there was (naturally) no other news worth reporting. Our rolling news and social media is quite effective at impressing on those of us at a distance the raw experience, so it would not be long before we saw some mobile phone video of what happened. But I wonder whether this approach helps us to process the powerful emotions that compete for attention when such news breaks, and I spent some of yesterday wrestling with this.

We feel shock that such a thing could happen here. The violence and chaos that we see reported from distant lands has visited us, here. This is true for all of us living in the same country, but of course it is most powerfully true for those living in Manchester, close to the scene, where it is places that they know in the daily lives which has become the backdrop to the devastation we have seen. The violence has ripped through our normally stable lives—and the shock of this makes us impatient with the careless and glib use of the language of ‘stability’ for political point-scoring.

We feel overwhelming grief and compassion for the families of those who have lost the ones they loved. It is almost impossible to imagine the grief and despair of those who have lost an eight-year-old daughter in this way, and words fail us. Anyone who has experienced such loss, or been close to those who have, know that the loss of a child  is a wound that never fully heals in this life—not perhaps should it–but becomes a reality around which life might begin to be reordered.

Immediately we heard reported a new sense of fear and anxiety in the streets of Manchester—but how will we feel at future large gatherings which we are keenly aware will be vulnerable to future attacks? There is no real way of protecting ourselves from such things if we want to live in freedom.

The simmering anger is the emotion that seems hardest to report—and the most dangerous to neglect. For some, it is anger at a particular group of people seen to be responsible, and we are right to resist the instinct to scapegoat. But we should feel anger at violence, at lives cut short, at the destruction not just of those killed and injured but of the many other lives affected. Grief and anger are sibling emotions that often work together. In reading the Psalms, we find the expressions of raw anger the most difficult to deal with—but there are times when they become the most important, as Scripture turns from being God’s word to us into being our words to God.

Along with anger, there will be emerging feelings of betrayal and confusion which raise important questions: how could someone raised in Britain commit such a crime? How could a 22-year-old want to unleash such carnage and death on other young people? How could someone whose family received refuge in Britain hate the country that welcomed them?

The reason for naming these emotions is that they seem very tangled up in the reporting, discussion and thinking about what has happened—and they are quickly giving way to wider analysis in the news. And Jesus seemed to think it was important to name our demons (Mark 5.9). These powerful emotional forces need recognising and articulating rather than resolving or suppressing, and those of us at a distance need to remember that those affected will long live with them. The response of steely resolve and determination that we have heard will be important, but it will not provide the answers to the questions asked by these emotions.

In the public statements made by faith leaders, I quite understand the need to express solidarity across religious divides, but I have been a little surprised at the absence of mention of the person of Jesus. Evening Prayer on Monday included this teaching of Jesus:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6.27–31)

These are hollow words unless we hear them spoken by one who did himself turn the other cheek, who took into himself on the cross the full fury of the hatred and violence of the world, and who alone is able to speak the enduring word of peace into our lives. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, who, on seeing death and bereavement at first hand offered the simplest of responses: ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11.35). This response neither displaced nor was displaced by the word of hope, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11.25) and our prayer for those in Manchester must be for both consolation and hope.

We #Pray4Manchester today. Rise up above its streets and schools, above the site of the atrocity, with healing in Your wings. Hear the cries of the wounded, the terrified and bereaved. Give its 2.5 million people peace?, its police-force wisdom? and its pastors love? to bind up broken hearts and conduct too many funerals, over coming weeks.

?Bring strength to the city’s emergency services, reconciliation to its large Muslim community, justice to the perpetrators, and comfort to the 21,000 young people who were at the concert simply having fun.

With defiance we celebrate Manchester’s unstoppable, undeniable world-class brilliance, alive as it is with music and sport, innovation and regeneration, industry, community and real faith.

And somehow, through the blood that has been shed, may many people encounter the Conquest of Love; the triumph of your resurrection life. (Pete Grieg)

It seems wholly appropriate timing that we should be about to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. We pray that God’s name might be known and honoured, that his will might be done, and that his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven—since these three petitions belong together.

O God, lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

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17 thoughts on “What do we feel about the Manchester bombing?”

  1. I have played the organ at countless funerals and one cannot avoid pondering what the close family mourners are experiencing. Depending on one’s belief, the one who has died either knows nothing at all (and therefore cannot be suffering) or enters a joyous eternal existence with our loving God. And so it always strikes me that those who are left are mourning for themselves, left with the loss of a loved one and a huge part of their life now closed. The loss of a child has to be the cruellest pain of all for a parent and funerals in those circumstances are the saddest of events.

    We all have but the shortest of earthly lifespans. People who take it upon themselves to shorten that existence are not doing something which would not eventually happen anyway through old age, sickness or accident, but they are taking upon themselves the power to dictate when that moment will happen – often with the cruellest brutality. They are seizing power, driven by a confused or simply wicked mental logic which must mean that they have the bleakest perception of life and love and justice imaginable – akin perhaps to already being in hell. We cannot and should not avoid the question of what kind of religion or ideology could implant that bleakness in the human soul if that is what has happened. And, if that is indeed what has happened, we are being dishonest and cynical if we refuse to face up to it for the sake of a temporary peace or the signalling of virtue.

    I think Jesus knew very well, and experienced, every aspect of human behaviour from the best to the worst. I wonder, though, if he was ever shocked because I’m not sure there’s any description of that in the gospels. If we Christians take seriously the reality of sin and lostness without Jesus we should not be shocked by evil, even though we are as broken by grief as others are, and if we are not shocked perhaps we can be stronger at terrible times, calmer in the storm and able to echo that still small voice which everyone around needs to hear. And I wonder, more generally, if we are now too ready to voice our feelings in public; a few carefully chosen words followed by silence might be a more powerful testament to our shared sorrow than the constant probing and exhortation to describe the horror of what people have witnessed.

  2. I don’t think the command to love our enemies applies on the level of states and security. It is a personal exhortation to refrain from retaliation, or from holding grudges or sustaining prejudices, and thereby to win people over and avoid sinning ourselves in response to sin.

    However, states have a responsibility to uphold order and justice, including bringing wrongdoers to justice.

    Consider the full section from Romans, where the personal exhortation to ‘leave room for wrath’ is juxtaposed with the teaching that the governing authority is ‘the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer’.

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.

    Even within the church the teaching on love for enemies and non-retaliation needs to be placed alongside the teaching on addressing wrongdoing in Matthew 18:

    If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

    We should examine our hearts and pray for those who harm us. But we need also to ensure that we support our governing authorities as they discharge the fearful task of executing God’s wrath on the wrongdoer, and upholding security, order and justice.

  3. ‘Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer’

    Taken in the way you suggest, this is surely one of the most naive passages in the whole bible. Without even going into the rights and wrongs of states ‘bearing the sword on wrongdoers’, the suggestion that despotic and imperialist authorities are to be obeyed is abhorrent. Would like us to become a Saudi-esque head-chopping theocracy?

    • I can’t quite tell if your quarrel is with me or with Paul? The only point I was making was that ‘love your enemies’, in the sense of non-retaliation for wrongdoing, is not a teaching which scripture applies to governing authorities, whether of the state or the church.

  4. Hello Ian,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and moving post – it did me good to read it.
    I still find myself pondering over these words of yours : ‘…I quite understand the need to express solidarity across religious divides, but I have been a little surprised at the absence of mention of the person of Jesus.’ This has led me to some thoughts of my own.
    Our school motto was ‘Servire est regnare’. We serve the Risen Christ who bore the unbearable as he hung dying on the cross and who told us that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted. We pray that those who are now trying to bear the unbearable will be comforted; we pray for those who are bereaved, those who are injured, those who are frightened, and especially for youngsters who are struggling to come to terms with the fact that this destructive, evil act burst into a peaceful gathering in peacetime.
    We also give thanks to God for sending us His son. We give thanks for the courage and dedication of the emergency services and for the generosity and goodwill of ordinary people in Manchester and in the world.
    It is tempting to become embattled and to claim supremacy over terrorists who won’t ‘win’ because we won’t let them. But we serve a Lord who told us that he has overcome the ‘Ruler of the world’ . We know from Scripture that the battle belongs the Lord.
    Some people seem to think that, for instance,the Changing of the Guards is important and must not be cancelled, but for now we have other priorities – and for me praying to God in the name of Jesus is top priority.
    Thank you again

  5. Primary feeling by far is that we want to prevent such dreadful things happening. If we want to prevent them, and we all do, then we have to understand why the perpetrator acts in the appalling way that they do, adn that will not be understood by thinking in a western way or by making stock responses. There is a danger of viewing one’s own culture as the norm and different cultures (which one may never have considered nor understood) as deviant. Please understand that pop-star values and dress may be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as showing lack of self-respect and (potentially worse?) trying to lead the young in that particular direction. (The thinking may perhaps be: if you don’t respect yourself, why should I respect you? And we may all the time be dealing with people who actually do respect themselves quite a bit, just that may not be the message that is coming across to certain cultures.) In looking at what has happened in South Yorkshire and Oxfordshire, which is on a considerable scale, we can only agree that it would never have been able to happen had the English been brought up with the same level of self-respect as the members of their own culture that the convicted men felt unable to touch.

    • Hi Christopher. I think you need to be very careful about suggesting that Islamist attacks are our fault because we’re so decadent etc. or the fault of women and girls because of their/our mores. What you’ve written could also be construed as suggesting we should change our culture and values in order to give radical Muslims less reason to attack us – effectively ‘understand their demands and comply then they’ll stop killing us’. Apart from the fact that they seem to find many (and any) grounds to slaughter us, so it is unlikely to work, this is no way to respond to hostile action against us. Obviously as Christians we know that our sexual mores as a culture could be improved, but that really is quite beside the point as we respond to atrocities like this, and it does us no good to raise the issue in response. If we are going to make improvements in our culture it won’t be (and shouldn’t be) in response to Islamist hostility or slaughter, and so, I suggest, now is not the time to talk about it, as it gives off all the wrong signals (to everyone) and is likely to be counter-productive.

      • That is quite distant from what I wrote. What I wrote was to draw attention to (a) the primary importance of avoiding repetitions; (b) the importance of forgetting our own western ways of thinking (which are irrelevant to the motivation for the attack, and may be of no help in avoiding repetitions) and trying to understand the thought processes, awful and without feeling as they are; (c) *one aspect of the situation* which is critical to bear in mind rather than an overarching theory of the entire situation.

        • Of course, the reason for changing certain things about our society would not be that we should make concession to such people. The reason would be that it is intrinsically right to do so; wrong not to do so; and that there are various options of which our society is currently following one of the worst, so logically should change.

    • Hi Christopher

      I think you’re right to mention this aspect, which raises the whole question, for believers, of how much influence Satan has in our society. “Everything is connected to everything else.”

      The Manchester atrocity is a symptom of the shocking divergencies in the West today between the Biblical, Islamic, and Humanist worldviews held in our society, and their consequences for how we live. How are we to hold together in the face of such fundamentally opposed doctrines? The current values of “tolerance and diversity” won’t stand for long.

      Politicians and the media are largely illiterate in matters of faith and philosophy, but these are going to become increasingly important, and urgent, in our lives.

      • Peter you are right – everything is connected.

        Beginning from that unassailable premise, the more comprehensive and multi-dimensioned a theory, the better it is likely to be.

        How therefore can anyone be satisfied with one-dimensioned and cliched responses? Precisely: the more one-dimensional they are, the more inaccurate they are, as we live in a multi-dimensional world.

  6. Faced with heartrending events when people die or are injured simultaneously and unexpectedly, how honest and unpopular does the Church want to be? Christian truth extends from eternity to eternity. Within that two significant book-ends are the Fall and the Day of Judgment. Whatever else the Church says about such events, it should include:

    “So flee to Christ, make no delay, for this may be your dying day”

    Phil Almond

  7. Thank you Will. It has also been suggested that targeting a concert where most of the attendees were likely to be young women and girls was an act of misogyny, but actually I prefer to go with the Bishop of Burnley when he described it as an attack on childhood. As far as not mentioning Jesus goes – I imagine that those commenting want their words to be heard by everyone affected, and not seem as just for Christians. But both Bishop David Walker’s and Revd Rachel Mann’s prayers after the bombing are clearly and unequivocally Christian – I recommend them to anyone who wants to pray for Manchester. Links here: https://www.manchester.anglican.org/news/2017/05/23/special-prayer/ and http://therachelmannblogspot.blogspot.co.uk/

  8. Ian, thanks for a thoughtful article and much good stuff on your blog. It is always stimulating! There is one response to this kind of evil atrocity that is often overlooked and, sadly, rarely heard. Jesus was very clear … whatever the type of tragedy or suffering, the response of all when we hear of an atrocity like this is to repent and trust Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Luke 13 verses 1 to 9 is very striking teaching, especially for the religious!

      • Ian,

        How about Charles Spurgeon’s sermon, Accidents, not punishments

        Spurgeon preached this message after two terrible incidents The first was on Sunday, August 25, 1861, when a nightmarish collision between two trains in the Clayton Tunnel (a 1.5-mile long tunnel between London and Brighton) had claimed 23 lives and severely injured hundreds (on Sunday, August 25, 1861).

        Barely more than two weeks later, on Monday, September 2, another train wreck in Kentish Town Fields (in North London) claimed 15 more lives.


  9. The communication needs to happen before the bereavement. To warn others to flee to Christ from the wrath to come is the task of all those who believe that we all face that wrath from birth onwards, lest their blood is required at our hands. The responsibility lies on us all – but especially on those entrusted with ‘public ministry’ from the Archbishops downwards through the bishops and presbyters. Of course, nobody will take the warning seriously and respond to Christ in repentance and faith until there come a breath from heaven to breathe upon these slain that they may live – for which merciful blessing I trust all those who believe these doctrines are earnestly praying.
    Phil Almond


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