Many changed their Facebook profile picture so that it temporarily shows a French Tricolour across their image to show solidarity with the French people following the horrendous attacks in Paris.
I felt moved to do the same. I wanted to express my horror at what had happened but almost immediately I was made to feel guilty for doing so.
Facebook statuses started appearing that suggested (either implied or explicitly) that those who had added a tricolour to their photo were wrong to do so.
It was not because they should not express solidarity with the French, but people were asking why there had been no similar solidarity with victims of violence elsewhere in the world – Beirut, Baghdad, Syria, refugees and so on.
The suggestion was made that it was only because this was close to home (across the channel) and (almost unbelievably) because the majority of victims were white Europeans that this was receiving the attention that it was.
By changing my Facebook profile in the way, these posts asserted, I was perpetuating this discrimination.
I felt bad and wondered whether I should remove the tricolour but decided that I would not.
I think that those who were making these statements were generally having a go at the Euro-centric media (but inadvertently having a go at the rest of us who were apparently suckered in by this).
Not changing my Facebook profile picture for any of the other atrocities does not mean I do not care about anyone else.
It most likely means we did not know about the other atrocities or didn’t know we could change our profile picture.
I did add a statement on Facebook to clarify my position: “The French Flag on my profile photo not only represents solidarity with France and those affected by the attack on Friday, but is representative of solidarity with all who are victims of violence wherever it is perpetrated, and whether on a national or personal scale. Lord have mercy.”
It may have been slightly defensive, but I wanted to say that everyone matters.
They matter to God whether or not I know about their pain and suffering. They matter whether it happens in the public eye or out of the awareness of the media.
It matters whether it happens to hundreds of people in a public place or to an individual in her home.
Violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, hate and many other words are not only part of our language, but also they have, regrettably, become part of our world.
While temporarily changing my Facebook profile picture may not make much difference, it is at least a statement of defiance that evil will not win; of friendship, that you are not alone; of love, that I care.
It is also an outworking and a public expression of my personal faith in Jesus (who was a refugee in childhood and a victim of bullying, persecution, injustice, assault and state-sponsored murder) that God’s love is stronger than anything evil.
God’s love cannot only overcome, it can diminish and weaken violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter and hate at their source – the human heart.
God’s love can change hearts in a way that no other force in human experience can.
His love can be expressed practically (rebuilding homes and offering aid, for example) in ways that do not create enemies in the same way that bombs and politically motivated invasions do.
God’s love (often very gently and gradually) can release people from the chains of domination and violence that continue beyond the end of physical oppression if someone is unable to forgive and is bound by bitterness and anger.
God’s love can stop the cycle of violence – transforming “an eye for an eye” to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-48).
I am not suggesting that we do not resist evil or that victims of violence do not need protecting. But love shapes how we respond.
“An eye for an eye” had been intended by God as a way of limiting the “compensation” for injury.
It was intended to prevent an escalation of violence by saying that any response must be proportionate to the offense and not excessive.
But human beings subverted that from a limit to a right – “I have the right to retaliate.”
Jesus’ teaching, “turning the other cheek,” is not about meek submission but about a refusal to retaliate. It’s about seeking the best for everyone, including your enemy.
God’s love is the only thing that can change the human heart permanently. Jesus didn’t command us to do much but he did command us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34).
It’s not easy, especially in the face of violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter and hate. But it’s the only way that will change the world, one heart at a time.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A longer version of this column first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom.