From the emails and letters that have come in on the subject of terrorism I have two in particular that I’d like to respond to.
Zinn – and that’s probably a pseudonym who states “I am sick and tired of those cry-babies asking for peace. Such whims make me puke. It is now payback time . . . America must and should retaliate in the fiercest way possible . . . (and so he continues.)
G N Sing writes from the other end of the spectrum. She states that she worked as a nanny in the home of a Doctor and Attorney, both from Pakistan, now resident in the United States. “They were both very kind to me and . . . I loved their style of cooking and never had to worry, “ she writes. “The recent events have given me reason to stay in touch with them and give them comfort. We never know who God is trying to win.”
Two ends of the spectrum. Can we get any guidance from the Bible as to how we should deal with terrorism.
Should we take the Old Testament principle seen in its most extreme in Deuteronomy 19:21: “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” . . . or should we be listening to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-44
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
I think there are four principles we can glean from these and other Bible passages.
1. Respect for life. Deuteronomy 19 and Matthew 5 both come in the context of respect for life. God honours and rejoices in life. He created us [Genesis 1:26-18]. In Psalm 8 he rejoices in us as his creation. But respect for human life sometimes means we have to deal with those who have no respect for human life. While on a personal level we should pray for our enemy – and we have been praying here at AWR for those who were involved in organising those awful atrocities of September 11 – we also have to prevent evil happening again if that is possible.
2. Protection of others. There are many Bible passages that council those who are wise to protect the poor, the innocent, the venerable. For instance: Leviticus 19:33-34 ” ‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Jesus metaphorically calls for a millstone to hung around the neck of anyone who mistreats children [Matthew 18:6]. This means in today’s terms – protecting the innocent living in our society – whatever background they come from – so there is no cause for prejudice or persecution of people simply because the terrorists may have come from a particular racial background or religion.
3. Elimination of evil. But that protection also includes prevention of further harm – and sometimes doing that includes force. That is sometimes why God condoned war in the Old Testament setting. Destruction of life was the lesser of two evils. Preventing a repeat of September 11 may equally entail some acts which go against our principles for the respect of life. In a world where there is evil, we sometimes have to fight against it to prevent harm to others – even at a cost to ourselves.
I remember the story of a Quaker gentlemen, a pacifist, who heard a burglar downstairs in his house one night. Grabbing a shotgun he came downstairs and confronted the thief. “Friend,” he said, “I wish thee no harm, but I am about to shoot where thou standest.”
It’s an awkward situation. We believe in life, but we are confronted with those who believe in death. Sometimes shooting where they stand is the only way to protect the innocent and reduce the amount of evil in the world.
4. What is the most redemptive thing I can do? In these difficult ethical dilemmas I always like to ask myself, “What is the most redemptive thing to do.” Sometimes, in Jesus case, it was to take action, overturning tables and chasing money changers out of the temple [Matthew 21:12]. Protecting God’s house from evil. Other times his best action was to “turn the other cheek”. The prime example of this was allowing himself to die on a cross – his sacrifice allowing all who believe in him to live. It’s a hard choice to make, and we need to make it individually.
The Old testament puts God’s redemptive choice quite clearly. Ezekiel 33:11
‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!
Terrorism is wrong. It has to be dealt with. But in dealing with it we do need to ask ourselves these difficult questions. We need to be sure that our response does not leave us to be seen as bad as the terrorists themselves.