After the Paris attacks, a translucent French flag began to cover profile pictures across Facebook, and on Instagram over 70 million users in 200 countries expressed their prayers using #PrayForParis, #PrayersForParis, #PeaceForParis, and similar hashtags. These simple gestures became a widespread show of solidarity with France and against Islamic State (ISIS).

Yes, someone could do much more to help, and profile pictures did nothing to defeat ISIS. Yet the spontaneous gesture was a powerful symbol that showed the global community’s sympathy. It helped create an “imagined community” standing alongside France and stretching across national borders. Such symbols are essential to keep a community together. In this case, a global community.

Praying for someone who is seen as part of our community can be an easy, almost therapeutic reaction. In contrast, praying for someone who is seen as an “other”, an enemy, or an antagonist can be quite difficult, sometimes even painful.

Pray for Russia, Too
This image began spreading across Russian social media Metrojet Flight 9268 went down.

Meanwhile, some people may have difficulty separating a country’s government, whose crimes and abuses deserve great criticism, from the country’s citizens, who have suffered from a tragedy and deserve prayers.

Yet for Christian citizens, prayer should be the first reflex whenever tragedies occur, whether they occur in a country that is seen as a friend – like France- or in a country that is seen as an antagonist – like Russia.

To read more about how and why social media responded differently to the Paris Attacks and the Metrojet Bombing (and how Christians should have responded), see the full article on Christian Post.

Mark Melton is the Deputy Editor for Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy in DC. He earned his Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and has a specialization in civil conflict and European politics.