Written by: Corey Latta
I’m taking my youngest set of twins (yes, we have two sets) to the doctor today. It’s their three-month checkup. The three-month checkup means vaccinations, which means shots. My wife hates it. So do I. Our unsuspecting babies, totally content in our arms and blissfully ignorant of their surroundings, feel this sudden stab in their chubby little legs. Can you imagine? They scream and they cry. They look at you with this “how did this happen?!” expression of shock. Momentarily traumatic. It’s needed, we understand. It’s preventative medicine. Though vaccination is painful, it’s a good sort of pain.
I’m right there for them, protecting them, holding them until the stop crying. They don’t know it in the throws of it all, but they’ll be okay. This innocuous chore of taking my kids to the doctor for a routine visit isn’t lost on me today. It has more meaning. I’ve been forced to think through the paces of the whole ordeal more carefully because just last night, there was felt another kind of pain. A greater, more terrible kind of pain, inflicted with harmful and destructive – without any semblance of innocuous or protective – intent.
As I was driving to the doctor, I listened to the latest news on Nice. Last I heard, at least 80 dead. Of those 80, at least 10 children. Another Islamic extremist inflicting another poisonous shot in the leg on the free world. 10 children.
I’ve been to France. I plan to go back. I could have been there. With my wife and kids, I could have been there. My three-month-olds could have easily been run down, crushed under the truck tires driven by a jihadist zealot. Parents with their babies celebrating the independence of their nation. Unsuspecting children blissfully ignorant of their surroundings and then …
I can only pray that the victims knew the Lord. That the light of the gospel shone on them before the darkness crashed in. As a Christian who believes that one’s judgment before Almighty God partly involves what’s known as the “age of accountability”, I believe those 10 children, if they hadn’t come to an age of understanding to accept Christ, went to be with the Lord after that truck hit them. I believe I’ll be with them in eternity. And I believe that if they’re with the Lord, I should envy them. In one sense, I should envy them for my kids. Those victims in Nice have escaped a fallen world of hate, violence, and terror. In Christ, they entered into the very presence of the Prince of Peace whose eternal will is the alleviation of pain, resurrection life abounding for slain, and the glorification of the fallen mortal frame. I’ll get to that new heaven and its new earth eventually. That glorious place where both terror and pain will no more be remembered than three-month old vaccinations are remembered by a man in the prime of his life. In Christ, I’ll get there. And in Christ, my kids, still asleep in their car seats with their little legs still sore from their shots, will get there, too.
But I’m not optimistic about the path we believers in Christ, particularly in the Western world, will have to travel to get there. I don’t think there is any place for optimism in a world where radical Islam exists. Optimism is too weak a thing for the Christian. It’s too sentimental. Too fleeting. What I’m left with, for myself, my kids, my country, and for the world, is a distinctly Christian hope. Tragedies like Nice, France and Orlando, FL—and let’s never forget 9/11—won’t let us forget that terrorism is a part of Western life, now. It shouldn’t be. But it just is. I can’t, through optimism, erase that fact or vanquish that evil. I can’t make an eschatology out of optimism. Terrorism, the world’s disease, is immune to optimism. My alternative, if optimism won’t do it and despair isn’t an option for the faithful, is hope. I’m reminded of what J. I. Packer said about the difference between optimism and hope:
Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God, as when the Anglican burial service inters the corpse ‘in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is yet to come.
This is what we’re left with, hope. If there is any fundamental sense to be made of the nonsensical pain inflicted by radical Islamists, then it’ll spring from hope. If there’s anything to which I can cling as I think about the greater kinds of pain my children will know, it’s the hope that in Christ, I can live and die “in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.” That’s all I know to say about the almost violence that’s redefining life in the western world. Honestly, at the moment, that’s all I want to say. I want to lament and pray for the dead. I want to pray for the salvation or destruction of those who would crash a truck through all that is beautiful, true and good in this world. And I want to take my babies out of their car seats, rub those freshly poked little legs, and pray resurrection hope over them. In this our present pain, optimism won’t cut it.