Where were you on September 11, 2000 when Bin Laden's terrorists first crashed the hijacked planes into the twin Towers of the WTC, and then into the Pentagon? I was at a traffic light in my country, and about to turn onto a road which would lead me to Mandela Highway and then on to work some forty five minutes away, when BBC reported the first crash. And at which time, no one had absolutely any idea of the true nature of what was happening. Until when the second plane crashed, live on television, then the world understood that we were witnessing a terrorist attack on the USA. So I called home immediately and told my wife to turn on the TV, and then tried to get my two children on the cell phone, both of whom were living in Florida. But by then all communications had been shut down in the US. So for many agonizing hours there was no contact, and when I arrived at work, for the first time in over twenty years, everyone who was there joined in prayer. For loved ones, for the USA and for the world. Eventually, with much sadness we were to find out that a young man who we knew well, a son of a friend, died in one of the towers.
Fast forward to last week's spectacular raid on Bin Laden home in Pakistan and the news that he had been killed. What was your reaction? Was it the kind of open joy that many on US TV showed? Did you feel like joining the throng celebrating at the White House? Was it the open skepticism that greeted the news in some parts of the Arab world, and in some cases cries of revenge? Did you, like some who were interviewed on radio wonder about his human rights, and whether or not the US had the right or the need to kill him? Frankly I greeted the news with a sigh of relief, and with a sense that justice had been done, after living through the consequences of the mayhem that was unleashed on the world on that fateful day. As one who does not believe in the death penalty, I was not happy that another human being had been killed, but was relieved that, at least his death removed one major terrorist from planning further mayhem and murder across the world. Others may well succeed in doing so, but a clear message was sent - that the US will hunt you down relentlessly, and will find you. And that's a powerful message. The other one is something my wife and I discussed the next day, is that with the advance in the kind of technology available today, there is no longer any such thing as private conversation, either at home in one's living room, or on a cell phone.
So what did the Lord say to me this week in my reflections and reading of His Word which would assist us to better understand what really happened between 9/11 2000 and 5/1 2011?
First I was led to read a reflection on Mercy by Chris Tiegen during that fateful week, when Bin Laden's life was coming to an end and he had no idea whatsoever. In the same way that those who perished on 9/11 had no warning or inkling of death speeding on its way. Actually there were two meditations on the same verse, but one touched more than the other.
THE MERCY DILEMMA
" Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy". Matthew 5:7
IN WORD Have you noticed something odd about how we respond when people offend us? Have you ever really thought about our natural reaction? Our first gut feeling in such cases is to respond in kind, to return ill will for ill will, to rise to the same level in spite with which we've been tested.
We know the options that are available to us. We could respond with equal offense; we could choose simply not to care; or we could respond with a demonstration of mercy. But almost invariably, our first reaction is to meet evil with evil. We are offended first, and then we have to talk ourselves into a gracious attitude and a merciful response. It is never the other way around, where we first feel merciful and wonder why we aren't more offended. the natural self has its preferences, and this is one of its strongest. the options are before us, but the impulses know only one.
Somehow, we must reverse the the impulses. We must learn to think of mercy first. How can we do that? How can we alter something that is so ingrained, so unyielding a part of our sinful nature? How can mercy become more natural to us than our sense of vengeance?
IN DEED The key is to ask the question that's really underneath the others: How can we be more like God? Moses asked for a glimpse of God, and as God passed by, he defined Himself as " the compassionate and gracious god, slow to anger, abounding in love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" ( exodus 34: 6-7). That's the core of who he is. that's what we're really asking here; how can we be more like that?
We have two options: We can try to reform the sinful human nature, or we can ask God for his nature. the former approach has never in history proven successful. You have probably already seen that for yourself, so give it up. Our only remaining option is to ask God. He offers us His nature. We must ask and believe he will give it. He always does.
Spare a thought for President Obama, a confessed Christian. And others who have to make tough decisions about terrorists on the run, and who have the potential and the desire to kill and maim thousands and to disrupt the western way of life. This is no easy task. And many are already accusing him, right here in Jamaica, much less in America or the Arab world, of cynically manipulating in his favor, public opinion, ahead of a challenging election period. The reality is that, without following the example set by Christ on the cross - dying for us while we were still sinners, still his enemies, still violent offenders - the supreme example of mercy and grace, we cannot claim to be his disciples. At least not with any justification. And it is not just just Bin Laden there or " Dudus" here. It may be a less challenging, but equally important situation, concerning a spouse, a child, a neighbour, a co-worker, a political opponent, where we may be quite justified in taking a certain course of action. But which action has nothing to do with mercy and cannot therefore be condoned. That why the book of James (3:13. NIV ) declares that " Mercy triumphs over judgment".
The reality is that the Muslim faith, as far as I know, does not place any such constraints on the actions of its members, and certainly has not transmitted that message by example. The Christian West however, carries this burden, even with leaders who are not manifestly Christian, but the weight of history and our culture demands that we not fall into the same cycle of vengeance that the Muslim world, at least in recent times, seems to have embraced. We watch and pray to see how the potentially dangerous situation in Egypt will play out over the next few weeks as Christians and Muslims seem to be at " war".
I'll close with the words of a hymn on which I've spent much time this week meditating. And which message speaks about the need to be constant in prayer and reflection, each day, each hour, about the goodness, faithfulness, mystery and mercy of God.
New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.
New mercies, each returning day,
hover around us while we pray;
new perils past, new sins forgiven,
new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
If on our daily course we our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we need to ask,
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God.
Only O lord, in thy dear love
fit us for perfect rest above;
and help us this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray.