by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
Soon we will be observing the fourth anniversary of the “9/11” attacks on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon in September, 2001. Most of us can remember vividly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the tragic news. I know I can.
Numerous countries around the world are now involved in what has been called the “War on Terror.” Whether this “war” is going successfully depends on who you’re talking to at the moment. Involvement in this “war” has meant costs for those countries; for example, Spain was the victim of terrorist bombings in Madrid.
And earlier this year, on July 7, there were a series of bombings in the subways of London. Two weeks later, there were further attempted bombings in the London subways but, thankfully, the bombs were apparently “duds” and did minimal damage. The bombings in London have rekindled memories of 9/11 and stirred intense feelings. In the wake of the London bombings, a “terrorism expert” proclaimed, “We need to wipe them out!” And even before the London bombings, a senior US government official said that, in the aftermath of 9/11, some in Congress wanted to find the persons responsible and bring them to justice while others wanted to find the persons responsible and retaliate. One side wanted justice while the other side wanted revenge. And he proudly identified himself as a part of the revenge faction.
Jesus calls us to give up the old notion of “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” (Matt. 5:38b NRSV). If we preach vengeance and the perceived need to “wipe them out,” then the terrorists, with their doctrine of hatred, have won. Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair have said that our greatest weapon against terrorism is our values. Of course, they are referring to values like freedom and democracy. To these we can add Christian values of faith, hope, love, peace, and justice.
Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 NRSV). In the end, we can not overcome the world’s ideologies of evil by wiping out those who believe in them. We can only overcome them with the truth of Christ. He went on to write that our weapons in the struggle must be truth, righteousness, peace, faith, scripture, and prayer (Eph. 6:13-18). These are the weapons with which we can “wipe out” hatred, intolerance, and evil.
He wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” (Rom. 12:2a NRSV). If we seek vengeance instead of justice, we are being “conformed to this world.” But we are called to represent a higher standard, the incomparable standard of Christ, who prayed for the ones who crucified him (Luke 23:34). We are exhorted, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21 NRSV).
Every day, we have choices to make: between good and evil, justice and vengeance. When we choose good, when we choose justice, we can show that we have not been conformed to the world but that we have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Four years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, I wrote, “Our weapons can protect against flesh and weapons but not against evil. For that battle, we need ‘the full armor of God’ (Eph. 6:10-18). Only this armor can protect us from the desire to substitute vengeance for justice.” I humbly submit that these words are still true today.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-21 NRSV.)