Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Later

As I am sure we all do, I remember all to well that day eleven years ago. I remember the confusion followed by frustration at not knowing what was happening. The internet was down so I recall being on the phone with my wife when the second plane hit and the cold pit in my stomach. I remember punching a file cabinet in impotent anger. My sister worked in downtown D.C. at that time and we couldn't reach her. As I went home that day and in the days that followed I remember the white hot rage that grew within me. In the days that followed I wanted vengeance without really knowing who that vengeance should be directed toward. Someone needed to pay. I clearly remember this speech by then President Bush...

....and being filled with pride. I still get choked up watching it now. I remember that I watched raptly as we charged toward war and my impatience at our "inaction". I applauded President Bush when he spoke before the country. I was filled with satisfaction when our special forces made their first foray into Afghanistan and left behind a picture of the World Trade Center, grimly knowing that their day was coming. I began the process of entering the Air Force, completing all but the final step before deciding that was not something I could do as a father of five.


Today the grim toll of that day has grown much worse. The trillions spent are a pittance compared to the butcher's bill of Americans, British, Iraqis and Afghans killed and maimed in the last decade, many of them innocent civilians. The dead from 9/11 are still dead but they have been joined by hundreds of thousands of others, most dying outside of Christ. Daily we hear of blue on green attacks, terrorists hidden in the Afghan army and police suddenly turning on their American counterparts. The situation is not improving and the war in Afghanistan is over but no one will admit it nor that someday soon with America gone the Taliban will be back in control. Certainly bin Laden is dead, Iraq is freer and we have had no appreciable terror attacks in this country but the cost in lives, money and liberty has been enormous.

Much has changed indeed. On 9/11/2001 I was a 29 year old man and a new Christian. Today I am 40 years old with a beard full of gray and a hopefully better understanding of the world seen through the lens of the cross. I no longer take any comfort in the invasion of Afghanistan or the liberation of Iraq or even the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The eternal fate of Hussein and bin Laden are the same as my neighbor down the road who is not born again. My greatest comfort is knowing that Christ died for my sins in spite of my weakness and failing and my great calling is to tell others about Him.

The call of the Kingdom is an enormous task and the way of the cross is non-negotiable. I have no time to seek vengeance and I have no right. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are not my enemies. My own flesh is a far greater threat to me than any terrorist and the Father of Lies is the enemy of the church, not some lost terrorist who is deceived a world away. Our empty religious rituals, our watered down teaching, our general lack of tangible concern for the lost, the poor, the orphan and the widow are where we should direct our concerns, not in whether or not Iran is building a nuclear warhead. The powers of this world will squabble and fight. Oftentimes, if we are being faithful, Christians will suffer and die for the sake of the Gospel. That comes with the territory and is not something to fear. Loving His enemies is what led to our salvation and He simply calls us to do the same but loving our "enemies" is hard to do when we are cheering their deaths and waving a flag.

We should remember and we can and should mourn those who died (see Robert Martin's excellent essay this morning on that topic:“Blessed are those who mourn…”) but as hard as it might be we must continually seek to look at this from eyes that have beheld the glory of the Lamb of God, those who see the "big picture" and are content to leave vengeance and justice in the hands of the King and to simply do justice, love kindness and  walk humbly with our God.


Anonymous said...

An excellent reflection, Arthur. My only concern (and hence my own reflection this morning) is that while we seek to steer away from the nationalitic "rah rah", we don't forget the people still in pain.

John Mureiko said...

Arthur, this is really good. I think that you hit the nail right on the head in describing that our role is not to dish out vengeful acts on those who've wronged us. Where is our love toward our enemies? I don't think that that is a topic that is brought up very often even by professing Christians. After all, what does it accomplish if we simply use the same retaliatory actions to get back at our enemies? What message does that send to the world?

All I can say is that my thinking has also changed on the subject over the last 11 years, even though I was only 11 years old at the time that it took place. Is it ever appropriate for a nation to be excited about going to war? Not only that, but we could ask if war was even the appropriate response. After all, Osama bin Laden was a murderer not a military general, and should have been captured and tried as one.

I read an interesting statistic from 2002 that stated that 69% of conservative Christians, which I suppose implies Christians of the Evangelical stripe, were in support of a war against Baghdad. That was nearly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. It doesn't say much for our desire to follow Jesus' command to be peacemakers…