While the headlines are blaring “It’s a Good Day in America,” I feel a disturbing unrest in the aftermath of the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Retributive justice—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—never works out cleanly, for it only escalates cycles of violence. My fear is that the US action in taking out the symbolic head of this notorious terrorist organization will serve to prompt further spirals of vengeance.
In class last evening, an African-American student offered a probing question: “Why is it when a man in the urban core avenges his brother’s death, he gets life in prison—and when a Navy Seal kills an enemy, he is proclaimed a hero?” As the semester of Theology draws to an end, and we try to sum up our understanding of the Christian doctrine of eschatology, thoughtful students wrestle with the fallenness of the world and God’s purpose to restore all things. It is not a simple calculus, and the reality of evil in the world is ever lurking spectral presence.
The Psalm for the Second Sunday of Easter warns: “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips” (Psalm 16: 4). Has our nation chosen the god of military hegemony that issues “offerings of blood” as our national signature in the world? The presumption that we can be invulnerable leads to a staggering imbalance in our national budget as we spend an ever increasing amount on weapons of mass destruction. National desires to preserve freedom and protect our citizens are noble causes; however, excessive war-mongering abroad only further shreds moral authority in the world.
Seeking to follow the One who asked God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” puts us at odds with the swaggering agenda of America as super-power. These words may sound simplistic from one who did not lose a family member to terrorist action, as my friend Bill Tammeus did, or ever serve in the military, as my late husband did; yet, forgiveness is the radical spiritual practice that can interrupt the “fall to violence,” in the words of Marjorie Suchocki. To be sure, forgiveness requires great courage and “voyages of anguish” (H. R. Mackintosh’s description) to offer the words of Jesus on behalf of those who have wronged us. Only those who know their deep need of forgiveness can summon the supply of the Spirit to offer it to others, and thus quell the urge to avenge.
Molly T. Marshall
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