Thoughts on the WTC atrocity yesterday…
Someone asked me to put down my thoughts today…
I am mostly numb from the events, so I make no pretensions to 'insight' today…
When it first dawned on me what had really happened yesterday, I found myself asking the first question that comes to any sensible and sensitive person's mind when confronted with unspeakable treachery: "Why DID this happen, God?"
We search for reasons to 'understand' that event, for ways to incorporate it into our predictable, rational, most-things-make-sense world. God created a world that was predictable and reasonable, so we could feel 'safe' in it--so nature and our surroundings would not seem capricious most of the time.
But I didn’t need a divine answer to that question--its almost always the same: either greed or emptiness.
Greed is very obvious to us, and reveals itself in most of our historical wars. The lust for more or better territory, the lust for more 'factors of production', or the lust for the wealth and pleasure-producing power these bring has motivated large scale--even whole cultures get 'behind' the vision--efforts to 'redistribute the wealth'. And, generally, the visionary has to come up with some self-delusional 'justification' for the expansion, since no one likes to admit to having exploitative and de-humanizing greed as a defining characteristic. (People of power, of course, do not have a monopoly on greed--we all are shareholders, more or less.)
But in terrorism, it is emptiness of soul that seems to be at work. Those who feel insignificant and petty and unimportant must find a way to 'be taken seriously'. They are often those who fail to achieve any status, significance, and recognition from their peers and society (which others achieve through normal, healthy means of hard work, compromise, learning, and cooperation), or they may be those who DO have wealth, but whose heart is so empty that nothing can help their feelings of smallness.
And so, they have to hurt someone to get attention…It's a lot like the toddler who throws its food on the floor, just to make a parent angry, or a teenager who deliberately gets in trouble, just to get his parents to 'pay attention' and take them seriously, just for once…Or a spouse who utters a cruelty, just to draw blood…
To be sure, the terrorist has a 'cause', but this is nothing more than the same self-delusional virtues of the greedy. They become holy warriors, or martyrs for righteousness, or punishers of the wicked. Its always the same--treachery masquerading as truth. Satan, disguising himself as an angel of light. Humans, believing themselves to be more worthy of respect than God. Godless nations, pretending to 'represent' God's will in their expansion. Small-minded vandalism, trying to sell itself as high-minded 'holy war'…
But it's all a lie…they are only little men, doing little things, to little purpose. Will this heal their heart? No, the heart will just get more empty and dead, and so the ideological rhetoric will have to be shouted a little more loudly tomorrow--to drown out the now louder self-witness to sub-human character: "They were right about you all along--You are not adequate enough be accepted as human.". They cannot win the war on their hearts at all this way…
Their atrocities are--at best--anesthesia for hearts that need replacing, for they certainly do not accomplish their ideological aims. Who did they hurt with this act? Only innocent lives. Was the 'evil system' hurt at all? Of course not. In fact, it will only increase the resolve of the 'system', engender greater support for the system's organized activities against them, and galvanize further cultural support for the system's values and texture. The families of the victims--quite probably only minimally interested in government efforts in this area prior to this--will now likely become a vocal force in FAVOR OF strengthening the system. Terrorist acts involving civilians do not weaken the target regime at all. Instead, they literally strengthen the entire culture and system, as in all groups. Every first-year sociology student knows that when confronted with external threats, internal warring factions almost always put aside the 'internal squabbles' and unite against a common enemy. Do terrorists know anything about how the world actually works?
But the terrorists, no doubt, are ignorantly celebrating the damage caused by their righteous, noble, and sacrificial actions. They have been able to drown out the cries of their own personal insignificance and pettiness, by making noise in the world.
So, the 'why DID it happen?' question is straightforward, in general terms that apply to human-initiated atrocities. But I quickly moved on to the 'HOW COULD this happen, Lord?'. And this question was deeper…
I asked how a handful of humans could create such misery and destruction in history, and I realized--very soberly--that this was just the shadow side of the ability to create good.
Just as a handful of humans could create a medical cure for some horrible disease affecting millions, or a handful of people could create massive relief programs for natural disasters involving hundreds of thousands, or a handful of people could create social movements for human rights and the abolition of slavery, so too could a handful of people create destruction like yesterday.
The same capabilities inherent in our world, can be leveraged by good for good, or by evil for evil. Fortunately for us, the scales are somehow heavily tipped by God toward the good. An orderly life on the planet requires that more 'good' gets created than 'bad', or we would simply not exist today. For example, we might have annihilated the entire planet by now with nuclear weapons, had the 'good leverage' somehow not been superior to the 'bad leverage'.
So good and evil are not symmetrical. Regardless of what worldview one might hold about the 'Other side', Dualism just doesn't fit in the world we live in…There has to be asymmetry, or we simply cannot be or live.
In fact, it is the sheer preponderance of good that creates the shock and atrocity force of this act. If things like this happened every day, we wouldn't be so traumatized by it. If our individual lives were filled with nonsensical acts of violence like this (as opposed to say every-few years), we would be numb to this already. Our fear of it happening to us might increase, perhaps, but our overall cynicism and callousness would likely increase as well.
Indeed, it is only in a community of persons trusting one another, and believing in one another's practical 'goodness' that treachery and betrayal can operate.
Treachery is parasitic on trust.
But the loss is staggering. I personally have learned--the painful way--that the amount of grief at losing a loved one is directly related to the amount of love and joy shared with that person. The pain--as great as it is--is never greater than the amount of love shared and joy experienced. One always says "Yes, I would do it over again…even if I knew it would end the same".
Evil is parasitic on the good, pain parasitic on joy, grief parasitic on intimacy.
It is sometimes only in the aftermath of tragedy that we see the landscape of beauty and goodness, in which this tragedy occurs.
But all the "perspective" in the world will not help those in pain of loss right now. All the landscape of the "Big Picture" will not dry a single tear, or help someone face tomorrow. For some of us, the greatest help we received in times of loss were from those who sat beside us and wept silently with us. Those that offered no facile 'answers' to our cries to God of "Why?! Why?! Why?!" And for those of you that need such, I offer my silent weeping in companionship with you.
For others, I might hold out the same offer from God, which I take up constantly in my life:
"We may never know why this was allowed, friend, but I do know God is eager to help you and me get through it...eager to open His life up into yours, for comfort and strength and peace--if you are only willing to reach out to Him for help in this time...He is no stranger to pain and anguish and grief and treachery--just look at what He experienced for us on the Cross so long ago..."
When my precious daughter passed away last spring, the world was numb for a long, long time. But I remember so clearly one remark my cleaning lady said, just a couple of weeks after the death. All the relatives had left, and life had to resume. She came in for her cleaning (on alternate weeks), not knowing what had happened. I was looking at pictures of my kids on the refrigerator and numbly told her the news. And I watched her face go cold and angry and closed, as she said: "Something like that happened to me last year--my little sister died. And you know, I have never prayed to God since."
I had no heart to engage in talking with her about that--I could barely breathe those days--but I thought to myself: How could I possibly survive this loss without God?! How could I ever live through this without becoming dark, dead, lifeless myself? Why in the world would I not avail myself of the ONLY thing that has ever really 'worked' for humans in the past?
The vast majority of stories I have heard about people actually staying alive through deep grief and incomprehensible tragedy are those in which the person turned to God for strength and comfort, and then grew that relationship into something beautiful, fulfilling, transforming, and powerful.
The Old Testament/Taanach described the Messiah Jesus once as "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." I am convinced that He has wept silently beside me many times in my life, and I earnestly encourage you to seek His help, His comfort, and His presence in your life.
For those of you in shock over this--without personal involvement or loss--I first encourage you to follow the biblical injunction to 'weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice'.
Secondly, I encourage you to think deeply about the shadows in each of your own hearts, and what impact these might have had on others in your own life. I personally have been a Christian for the second half of my life, and the enormity of what the bible says Jesus had to accomplish on the Cross for us makes me realize--a little more each day--the hideous and heartbreaking consequences of even the "small" treacheries, betrayals, and negligences that flow from our own hearts…