In writing this, I know that I am opening myself up to criticism from several fronts. We are commanded in Romans 12:1-2 to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, seeking the renewal of our minds so that we might discern what is pleasing to God. Serious reflection about one’s self and major world events is part of this, though it is no easy task to do well.
Today, I write as one reflecting on the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the light of my identity as a child of God and follower of Jesus Christ. I also write as a husband, a father, a son . . . and a brother to one of the most courageous men I know; a man in uniform, serving God in the midst of war.
Terrorism is Evil Action
It is very easy when remembering distant events to begin thinking of them in passive terms. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “when the planes hit the buildings” or “when the buildings fell” or “lives were lost”. These are all passive phrases used to describe events. But there is a problem with remembering in passive terms. This type of remembering further removes the events from the one remembering, and trivializes the events as inevitabilities that have come to pass, so be it.
Christians are continually called by Scripture to remember, and we are called to do so collectively. Through collective remembering we become participants in salvation history as God has unfolded himself and his will to lost humanity. This collective remembering, however, does not end with the Biblical witness. We are also called to remember, for example, those who are living outside of a saving faith in Christ and who are living on the margins of society. We are called to remember the poor, the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans, the homeless, the helpless. We are called to collectively remember these in prayer before the throne of God and in practice through acts of mercy. This is active remembrance.
This collective remembering also includes the victims of disaster, war, and famine. Through the solidarity of collective remembering we become part of the story of others, and they part of ours.
But collective memory ceases to become a shared experience when we do not rightly remember that acts of evil are just that, the chosen ‘actions’ of evil men and women. 9/11 did not just ‘happen’ to America. Three-thousand people did not just happen to die on that day. On 9/11 evil and cowardly men attacked the United States of America and murdered three-thousand people. It was an act of terrorism, not a passive happenstance. And we do no justice to the memory of the dead when we fail to acknowledge the wickedness of those who perpetrated these acts.
Reflection, however, is not just about correct remembrance. True reflection also invites both the group and individual to evaluate our conclusions gleaned from and responses to the events in question. As we remember the acts of evil and their impact on our shared lives, what should be our response?
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Matthew 5:9 tells us, ‘ Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’ (http://bible.us/matt5.9.niv84).
This verse and others like it have been co-opted for a variety of causes, particularly that of pacifism. But the language of the text is not as clear as some would have us believe. While it is quite clear that to seek and make peace is preferable in the eyes of God, the means to that end are not spelled out.
Easy speculation suggests that to make peace one must always be peaceable, hence the position of pacifism (this is simplistic, but consistent with the logic of pacifism). But while this sounds good on the surface, the truth of the matter is something entirely more complex and deep. It is a fallacy of logic to assume that peacefulness leads to peacemaking in every instance. This is an ideal, and it is one that has a serious flaw.
You see, Matthew 5:9 tells us that peacemakers are blessed. Peacemakers are those who make peace. They are active in the pursuit of peace. Pacifism, on the other hand, by its very definition is passive. It does not make peace, it merely seeks to be peaceable.
Are You a War-monger, Isaac?
No. War is terrible, no matter how you look at it. It is a true picture of fallen humanity, that we should ever seek to solve our differences by killing one another. My prayer is that all war will cease and that humanity will learn to live together as one body. Even as I pray for such a peace, I know that it will only come when Jesus Christ returns, and so I pray that his return comes swiftly.
When we remember the violent atrocities of 9/11, and we remember that wicked men performed evil acts, our immediate response should not be a sprint toward war or conflict. Any such response should be carefully weighed, prayerfully considered. Yet neither does Scripture tell us that we should flee from agression and embrace a passive stance in the face of evil actions.
When evil is active in the world, sometimes the only viable response is to act against it.
Sometimes, evil must be stopped, not simply tolerated until Christ’s return. This can only be done through the actions of peacemakers. While war itself is to be avoided if at all possible, we should not seek to condemn those who fight in wars, for many of those who do so are brothers and sisters in Christ.
My older brother is one such person. He has faithfully served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force for many years. His job, both in the sky and on the ground, is often a dangerous one. It is one that he does not take upon himself lightly, but does so because it is where God has called him to serve for now. My brother is first and foremost a loving child of God and disciple of Jesus Christ. He is also, like me, a husband, a father, and a brother. He has served in many countries, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and he is in the greatest sense of the word a hero, because he voluntarily goes in to confront wickedness and evil at the risk of his own life and well-being. My sister-in-law has also served as a fighter pilot, putter herself in harm’s way many times during the early months of the Iraqi invasion. Many of you have family and friends who have served in the military selflessly and at great personal loss.
Not all of us are called to serve vocationally in such dangerous jobs, but each of us is called to serve others sacrificially as a testimony to God’s love for humanity. Most often, this sacrificial work is done through works of mercy and service, through prayer and fasting. Occasionally, though, when wicked people perform evil acts we may be required to act in response.
It is not loving, nor does it faithfully represent the love of God who acted mightily to save us, to sit idly by in the face of evil acts.
And so, on this day when we remember September 11, 2001, let us also remember all of those who have served and are serving to combat evil actions wherever they occur. Let us all strive to be active peacemakers. But let us also remember that God alone can bring true peace to our world and is doing so through his son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.