We are never safe. As a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, I was assigned the task of performing my base’s vulnerability assessment in August of 2001. It was thought to be a trivial task because in the post-Cold War era, it was ludicrous to think anyone would attack a target on US soil. There will always be enemies at the gate, disease in our midst, natural disasters coming out of nowhere and embolisms lying dormant in our brains. To assume we can make ourselves safe is folly. To chase after security as our greatest good is idolatry.
We are never alone. Augustine wrote City of God in response to Rome being sacked. Instead of asking why God let that tragedy take place, he thanked God for preserving the survivors. God does not protect us from suffering; God helps us through it. Bonhoeffer said “only a suffering God can help,” and lucky for us, Jesus suffered more than anyone for our sake. I suppose that is why we call it Good Friday; no matter what we are going through, Christ is with us.
We are never innocent. The 9/11 terrorists did not attack the National Cathedral or the National Archives, our symbols of Christianity and democracy. They destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the heart of the American military-industrial complex. Having been on the front lines of that complex, and having seen how American greed and arrogance exploited and demeaned other cultures, I can understand the terrorists’ frustrations and anger. I still condemn their actions.
We are never beyond redemption. I have seen more grace in combat zones and prisons than I have in churches. People can change, and God always works through the unworthy.
Violence begets violence. Gandhi said it best when he observed that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Vengeance for 9/11 leads to vengeance for drone strikes. The innocent are always collateral damage as well as the justification for more violence. As Martin Luther’s contemporary Erasmus said, “No one ever wages a Just War.”
Sometimes love begets violence. Martyrdom in the strictest sense is “witness,” and it is rarely pretty or reasonable, but it is the Gospel. If death gets the last word, then loving our enemies is noble idiocy. However, if the Resurrection is true, then courageous, loving, non-lethal resistance is the most appropriate Christian response to violence.
Love anyway. It is better to live as a fool for Christ than as an executioner for justice. We rarely learn this lesson until it is too late, which is why we have more soldiers killing themselves than being killed in combat.
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