Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.—Romans 12:19
Yesterday terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and crashed outside of Pittsburgh. I had planned to work at home on writing this column as the final piece of this issue when a friend told me to turn on the TV. Like others, I spent the day glued to the news coverage, making and receiving phone calls related to the day’s events.
As I write, we as a nation are in shock. Collectively, we witnessed devastation of an unprecedented magnitude in New York and Washington, as buildings that were symbolic of U.S. economic and military strength were severely damaged or reduced to flaming rubble, with thousands dead and many others seriously injured. Today we are learning that this devastation was wrought by 20 or fewer individuals armed with box-cutting knives—a simple tool available in every hardware store.
We have much to consider. In this grave moment, we have an opportunity to heal our nation—not just of yesterday’s tragedy, but of perceptions that can lead to escalation and further, even worse, devastation. In the days ahead, we will make tremendously important choices. Our sense of invulnerability has been shattered. Millions of dollars have been spent on high-tech missile deterrent systems—and the current administration is proposing spending billions more for its Star Wars initiative. Yet, yesterday’s attack underscores the folly of gaining a sense of security from high-tech systems when a few highly organized, well trained, determined individuals with very low-tech weapons can wreak such devastation. This is the adversary of the immediate future, and Star Wars weaponry will not keep us safe.
Those who equate elaborate weapons systems and high-tech military operations with national security will be loudly demanding that we increase our "readiness" and that we search out and destroy the perpetrators. We can see in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland that retaliation breeds further attacks from the other side and clearly brings no peace.
It may be the 21st century, but some things have not changed since biblical times. No matter what our anger or outrage, vengeance still belongs to God, not us. Jesus was very clear when he said, "Ye have heard . . . thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matt.5:43-44).
What does this mean in practical terms for us in the 21st century? It means not setting a horrific example by targeting civilian populations, such as we have done in Iraq. It means bringing an end to capital punishment. It means not supporting military dictatorships that enable despots to torture and slaughter their own citizens with impunity. It means condemning Palestinian terrorism (or terrorism anywhere)—and condemning the Israeli military reprisals aimed at civilian populations.
It is time for the world to find a better way to respond to the forces of destruction than with retaliatory destruction. True security lies in our relationship with a loving God and in our ability to search out and reach that of God in other human beings. Our security cannot depend on defensive human enterprises that are difficult to maintain and ultimately subject to failure. True security will only be found when we have nothing to fear from our global neighbors—when we have learned to share our abundance and to provide assistance to those in need, when we have come to understand the underlying motivations of those who resent us, and when we have turned our own swords into plowshares. Placing our faith in weapons systems or retaliatory measures is aiming too low. Our faith belongs in God, nothing less. When we choose the path of angry retaliation, we choose our own destruction as surely as those terrorist hijackers chose to die a fiery death in the sky over Manhattan.