Recent events in the news have underscored how very strong Evil is in the world, and how rampant it can be. In this article, I would like to consider ways in which we, as Christians, might view these horrible events, and then to suggest a few things we might do in order to help pick up the pieces and continue to build the Kingdom of God from here. Perhaps more importantly, I want to attempt some measure of comfort for those who have suffered loss in the terrorist attacks of September 11.
As Christians, we really cannot be too surprised that the ugly head of hatred and violence has been raised in a shocking way, because we know all too well what happens when we take charge of our own lives, and ignore Our Lord who dwells within us. The old adage, "whatever you are filled with will spill over when you are bumped" is most appropriate here, because the U.S. has now been bumped, and what is it that has spilled over? We have seen both good and evil in large doses.
How inspiring it was to see the true heroism of so many firemen and policemen who gave their lives so that others might be saved! How truly wonderful it is that so many helping hands have risen to the occasion to do what can be done to help assuage the deep pain, grief, and sadness that so many now are having to deal with.
Those who hate have been at war with the U.S. for some time, and must have felt a great deal of frustration that they were unable to get our attention until this "crowning success." Not since Pearl Harbor have we seen such devastation perpetrated by an enemy in our own back yard. President Bush was right when he declared that this is a classic battle of Good vs. Evil. He went on to declare that Good would prevail. What he meant was that we (Americans) are the Good in this battle, and that they (the terrorists) are the Evil. It is my fervent prayer that indeed Good does prevail over Evil here, but we need to carefully consider those two categories and not jump to conclusions about them without thinking.
We Americans have received a wake-up call. And thus awakened, the whole world is watching us for just how our response unfolds. We think of ourselves as champions for the Good, and it is true that we have a special opportunity now to be just that. We cannot always be responsible for what happens to us, but we are always responsible for how we respond when it does happen to us. The United States is at war, but it is not so clear as it was after Pearl Harbor who the enemy is.
We are right to say "terrorists." But we should be wrong if we then said that "terrorists" are Afghanis, or Arabs, or Muslims, or Palestinians, while skipping over the terrorist that lies dormant in our own souls. While it is true that Osama bin Laden is a terrorist and an Arab, he has been stripped of Saudi citizenship for his terrorist activities. The Taliban are terrorists, having slaughtered their own people, desecrated ancient Buddhist relics, and harbored bin Laden, and they are also Afghanis, but the Afghani people do not want bin Laden in their country, and do not approve of terrorism. Having been the victims of so much bloodshed on their own soil, they can identify with those innocents in the September 11 attacks. They understand better than most what it feels like to be on the receiving end of terrorist attacks.
Christ Jesus gave us probably the most difficult command ever given - to love our enemies - to do good to those who oppress us, and to pray for them. If we could really love even those who have attacked us, and seek to understand why they have done so, we might get some idea about how to make sense of this seemingly senseless killing. That understanding would then be a driving force for what we do about it. In Matthew 5 we learn that "if you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Osama bin Laden is very compassionate to those he considers to be in his flock. But Our Lord has a different plan for us. If we meet negativity with negativity, outrage with outrage, attack with attack, what then will be the outcome? Is not terrorism a tree that brings forth more terrorism? The best thing we can do to help terrorists is to give in to their violence and become violent ourselves. Nor can we feel superior, for we truly "know not what we do." Only in close contact with God and in being obedient to Him can we hope to be qualitatively any different from a terrorist.
Islam is not a terrorist organization. Although there is such a thing as "Jihad" (Holy War), it is not to be used to slaughter innocents, but rather to be used only when under attack or to defend their own land. Misuse of the Jihad is no more Islamic than the Spanish Inquisition was Christian.
We saw Palestinians dancing in the streets when they saw what happened in the U.S. Many were only children, being taught to hate - being taught evil ways. But not all, or even most Palestinians feel that way. Most Palestinians have wept for us in our hour of grief, and their leader, Yasser Arafat sincerely gave blood on behalf of the victims.
Those who celebrated our suffering are unquestionably giving vent to the Evil within them, but they, just as many of us do, think of themselves as being "good" and of us as being "evil." Let us not make the same mistake. They are not celebrating that "Good" has been wounded, but that "Evil" has been wounded. They see us as evil because they see our military and economic power exercised in ways that from their point of view do not bring down tyrants, but rather bring death and misery to the already poor, to innocent children, and to people who they think have done us no harm.
We Americans see ourselves as "good," but are we really? To what degree has our wake-up call awakened us? Has it awakened us to the point where we can see ourselves honestly, where we can see the terrorist in our own souls as clearly as we can see it in others? G.K. Chesterton has said that we ought to be able to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity. Can we do the same with terrorists? Forcing ourselves to do so may give us invaluable insights.
As touching as the many stories of heroism are, it is equally distressing to hear the many calls to simply level a whole country, to see our own citizens who happen to be Muslim or with Middle Eastern roots being bullied and killed, and made the target of our hatred, of our own evil. These people, our fellow Americans, are twice victimized, once by terrorists abroad, and again by the terrorists dwelling in our own collective American souls.
Though we are not responsible for all of the evil that confronts us, we are always responsible for how we behave when Evil befalls us, whether or not we are responsible. Our wake-up call should not only wake us to the stains on our own hearts, but to the suffering that we may have unwittingly caused in the past to innocents abroad. It should lead us to find new ways of behavior, not just by vastly improving our security systems and intelligence gathering, but also by reaching out in new ways beyond our borders to lessen the hatred and the misunderstandings that work against us.
Modern warfare cannot punish only the guilty. So if the country must fight militarily for a season (even a long season), then we as Christians must fight all the harder that those who are not American are also helped as though they were. The inevitable innocent victims of war must be made to see our love and compassion more clearly than they see our might on the battlefield. If we cannot do this, then the U.S.A. is not really the world's leader in the struggle of Good vs. Evil, but is merely, currently, the biggest dog on the block.
The time is right now, while the world is watching, when we can be far more influential than at normal times. This is a time of severe testing, but as is usually the case at such times, it is also a time of extraordinary opportunity. If we can reach out our hands in love and kindness while we are still reeling from the blows, we make our point with far more clout than when we are comfortable.
Our Lord has not given us comfort so that we can be comfortable, but so that we can be comforting, and it is precisely that which makes sense out of what has happened to us. This is the moment of our ministry. This is the time of teaching what it really means to be Christian. It is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves. What we teach now, at this particular time, through our every word and action, will produce echoes that will be heard both now and for many years to come. This is our chance to identify cause, not blame. It is our chance to understand. Besides, being understood is not a possibility until our opponents know that we understand them, and that we care about them.
I do not suggest that we let terror go unchecked. Nevertheless, unless we take this time to look at the cause of our experience, and look with as much compassion on those who hate us as we do upon our very own, we will never remove ourselves from the conditions that created this horrendous experience. We will forever live in fear of retribution from those within the human family who feel aggrieved, and, likewise, we will also seek retribution from them.
Our Lord teaches us that we are to love our neighbor. It makes no difference whether he loves us or not. Once again, this basic situation stares us in the face. It will always be there in front of us until we learn that we only get when we give, we are only loved when we love, and we only live when we have died to ourselves.
Prayer was never more needed than it is now. Other people have never needed us so much as now, when evil is becoming exponentially more and more frightening and influential. God's guidance and strength have never been more valuable. So let us determine that we will be agents for His Will. Let us pray that we will have our hearts, hands, and minds open that He may fill us, and not merely pray for God's blessing upon our own personal or national agendas. Let us in this time of crisis determine that our obedience is our first priority, even if it cost us our lives.
Viktor Frankl, the Jewish Austrian psychoanalyst who survived several Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, in speaking about his fellow prisoners, observed that a man could live through almost any conditions, no matter how dehumanizing if he had a "why" to live. We all must therefore ask the question of ourselves anew, "What can I do to be more comforting? How can I preserve the beauty and the wonder of our world and to eliminate the anger and hatred--and the disparity that inevitably causes it--in that part of the world which I touch?" The answer to that must be part of our "why."
If we were not one of those people killed in the September 11 attacks, we are still alive. That means that our mission here on earth is not yet finished. Thoughtful reflection on how we can reduce the hatred is what we must all think about now. This is a good time to evaluate, renew or bring about a personal mission statement for the first time. Out of our grief, like the phoenix, we must rebuild our character from our own ashes.
Many are wondering how they might find something worth living for, after having lost all that was most precious to them. We should consider that what we wish to experience, we should provide for another. If we want peace, we must provide peace to others. If we wish for our loved ones to feel safe, we must recognize that we must strive to make those who hate us also feel safe. If we wish to heal our own sadness or anger, we must find ways to heal the sadness or anger in others.
Particularly for those people who have suffered loss in this latest round of violence, you are the ones whose broken hearts are most valuable now. You have the opportunity to bring more healing than those who only read about the violence, because your understanding of such wounds is deeper than ever now, and those whom you touch in compassion will also be more deeply touched. From him to whom much is given, much will be required. It is also true, in a paradoxical way, that he from whom much has been taken has much to give. It is truly the wounded healer that heals most effectively, and if we sometimes are tempted to feel that we have nothing more to expect out of life, we now have the chance to consider what life expects from us.
Some concrete, practical things that we might do to lessen the the pain of others and increase their hope are the following:
On a local scale:
Kindness shown to our Muslim brothers, as well as those who have been bullied on our own streets for merely being of Middle Eastern stock is important. We have all seen reports of Christians locking arms so that Muslims could go to worship and pray. We need much more of that kind of thing. We need to continue to make those who had family or friends killed or injured in the twin towers or at the Pentagon, or in the plane where the people fought back at terrorism feel our love in a tangible way. We need to help to the point where their successful recovery is our successful recovery. Also, when we see evil in progress within our own society, such as hurtful comments or bullying, we need to stand up to it, even though we may also suffer. The rabbi in Berlin under Hitler who spoke at the rally in which Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech in the 1960s, said that the most important thing he ever learned in his life was that the most horrible and shameful thing about the Holocaust was not the killing by the Nazi's of 6,000,000 Jews, but that a supposedly "civilized nation" such as Germany would stand by and watch the killing of 6,000,000 Jews and do nothing. If we see evil and do not move to stop it, we become accomplices. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the battle of "Good" and "Evil" is only "out there" somewhere. It is to be found throughout this planet, including in our back yards, and in our own hearts.
On a worldwide scale:
Thousands are being turned away at the Pakistani border right now, and are forced to sneak into Pakistan. A show of compassion for these people by thousands of Christians, setting up "safe areas," for example, in countries surrounding Afghanistan or within Afghanistan itself, in which any person could come to receive food, medical care, and shelter would be money and effort well-spent, because it would tend to galvanize untold support from the worldwide community, including volunteers from around the world as well as the United States, and from people who would otherwise not participate in the war against evil. It would show the Afghani people that they are worthwhile and valued.
The inevitable innocent victims of war would have a place to go for succor, which would belie the terrorists' cries we know are coming that the U.S. are simply murderers of innocent women and children. It would short-circuit any attempt by the enemy to paint the U.S. in the same light as the world community now holds the terrorists. In order to be the leader for "Good" on a worldwide scale, the United States must do good on a worldwide scale.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, standing up to evil without fear of being killed, armed with the Love of Our Lord, whether as a soldier, a survivor, or a volunteer, because we have already given our lives to Christ, can provide for us a quality of life and a meaning that we might never achieve without such times of crisis. It can truly be the "Peace that passes understanding." Such peace means that we never have to worry about what is going to happen next.
Author, Walter Newport
Dr. Walter Newport
Professor of International Education
Ishikawa Agricultural College
Ishikawa Prefecture, 921-8836, Japan
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (I check this every day)
*The opinions expressed in this testimonial are those of the author, who is solely responsible for content.* Editor, THE EDIFIER