Hearts and Minds:
Some questions, in the wake of the reported killing of Osama bin Laden (world-renowned terrorist and identified as American public enemy number one): What are we to think? How are we to feel? Should we rejoice? Should we weep? Why are some American Christians gathering around the White House to cheer and other American Christians gathering in prayer corners?
Should we celebrate that lives may have been saved by the death of a killer? Should we mourn that the life of a killer has been lost? Should we rejoice in the death of a sinner? Or weep that he may not have turned from his way and lived? Is Osama bin Laden in Hell or headed in that direction? Do we know for sure? Would the love of Christ desire something different for him than for me?
If St. Paul, himself, does not sit in judgment on the present or eternal condition of anything or anyone before the Lord returns in glory (including himself), should I? Who really is the chief of sinners? bin Laden? Adolf Hitler? Joseph Stalin? Kim Jong-il? Or is it St. Paul, as he calls himself? Or St. Dorotheus of Gaza? Or St. Seraphim of Sarov? Or Mother Teresa, as they saw themselves?
Am I really, as I say every Sunday morning, the chief of sinners? All sinners? What is that supposed to mean? If God is just as we understand human justice to be, facing the consequences of my actions, then how can I possibly at this moment not be in Hell?
Is it okay to desire that my enemy suffer the consequences of his sins while praying that I be spared the consequences of my own? Does loving my enemy necessarily mean loving his behavior? His religion? His objections? Is it ever the loving thing to do to stop my enemy?
Why are some of us quoting C.S. Lewis when he writes, “We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.”? But ignoring C.S Lewis when he writes, “The load, or a weight, or a burden of my neighbor’s glory,” even my enemies’, “should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it”? Would the Lewis, who seems to support killing in some situations, be a Lewis who danced in the streets frantically waving an American flag after a killing in some situation?
Why do some of us appeal to the New Testament on issues such as the family, morality, and eternity, but appeal to the Old Testament on issues such as war, killing, and justice? Why do we quote Jesus when we’re feeling kind but quote Leviticus when we’re feeling vengeful? Why are some of us highlighting Proverbs 21:15, “When justice is done it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evil doers,” but seeming to ignore Proverbs 24:17, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls. When he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice?”
Why are some of us cutting and pasting Romans 13, which speaks of the state wielding the authority of God on evildoers? But skipping over Romans 12, which speaks of blessing those who persecute you, not repaying anyone evil for evil, and giving food and drink to your hungry and thirsty enemy?
What is the role of the Church in the world? What is the role of the State in the world? Does the Church stop where the State begins? Or does the State stop where the Church begins? Do the sayings of Jesus apply only so far? Are they authoritative on a personal and relational level? But unrealistic on some national and global level? If so, what does that say about the sayings of Jesus?
When is patriotism healthy? When does it become unhealthy? Does the love of my country require contempt for any other country or anything less than love? What do we do with saints who were soldiers, who shed blood and defended borders? Are they somehow any less saintly? What are we to say to those who argue that even for the Christian violence is sometimes necessary? What are we to say to those who argue that especially for the Christian violence is not?
For those who criticize our military, how would you defend us and the innocent in an increasingly violent world? If God will defend us, why can’t He defend us through a military? Does peace through strength work? What exactly does the expression “the lesser of two evils” mean? Does it mean that it’s okay for a Christian to sometimes choose evil just because it appears to be lesser?
If someone were to break into my house and threaten my family is violence really the only solution? Do I assume the bloodshed is the only way out? Are some human beings more valuable than others? How does my heart respond to the death of my friend? Does it respond any differently to the death of my enemy? If so, why?
Does my faith flow from my politics? Or do my politics flow from my faith? In the light of the sovereign truths of the Holy Church, should I really hold any personal opinions? Do I have answers to any of these questions? And if I do, how self-assured should I feel about them?
What I believe is that the kinds of questions we ask will determine the kinds of answers we get. But what I believe for certain is this; Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. It’s all the stuff in the middle that is the hard, difficult, challenging walk of faith in this world. It’s the stuff in the middle where each of us, by the grace of God, works out our salvation in fear and trembling.