It’s 9/11 and the events eight years ago are on most people’s minds. Many Christians will be praying today, as my wife wrote in her devotional. What will those prayers consist of? What is a Christian response?
Shortly before the second gulf war began, I wrote an essay simply titled Revenge! I want to quote from it here:
As a nation, we have been living in the role of Michael Palins character. We see the bad guys in our sights and we shout Revenge! in the hope that when revenge has taken place we will be safer, life will return to pre-9/11 normalcy, and we can forget all about this extra security. Most of us know this wont be the case, but that doesnt stop the wishful thinking.
This was illustrated during the bombing of Afghanistan, and later during the ground war. Repeatedly the reporters would ask various military spokesmen whether they had caught or killed Osama bin Laden yet. The answer? Nobody knew. But why was that the question? Did we really think that a bombing campaign could be so targeted as to kill a single individual? Sure, he might die, but bombs are not weapons of assassination in the normal course of events. Did we think that if Osama were caught or killed that the terrorism would end? Surely we arent that naive!
But there is that little program in our brains that wants to yell Revenge! and expects that life will be a little sweeter when it is accomplished.
In some ways we face a similar situation with Iraq. I know there is a powerful motivation for revenge. I am a veteran of the 1991-1992 gulf war. It annoys me every time I see Saddam Hussein expressing himself on television. I confess I wouldnt mind having the drivers seat of a steam roller with Saddams feet stuck in setting cement. Id yell Revenge! and Take that! and roll over him, and on the other side Id feel good!
But then would my family be any safer? Would my country be more secure? Would anything be more normal when all was said and done? Very likely not.
I need to let that resentment go. I need to tone down the shout Revenge! I need to consider what will actually make things more secure.
Now my point here is not to reiterate my opposition to the war in Iraq. My point is simply this. The command of Jesus to love our enemies extends even to terrorists. While I don’t think that denies that there should be consequences for evil actions that people take, nor do I believe it prevents justice and security measures, what it should prevent, amongst Christians, is the idea that revenge can get us anywhere.
Vengeful attitudes and fear distort our judgment and prevent us from seeing the best approach. I am not a pacifist, but I strongly believe that we are much too inclined to resort to violence and often to apply violence in the wrong way, often because what we are really seeking is not reasonable security but revenge and a diversion from our fears.
As a follower of Jesus I think it is my duty to let forgiveness clarify my thinking and to let love guide my actions. That’s not easy in the world today, but I think it’s the call.
A Response: Elgin Hushbeck has written a short response, but the trackback somehow didn’t happen. I always find Elgin an interesting and challenging dialog partner. I should note (full disclosure and all) that my company, Energion Publications, publishes his book, Preserving Democracy.