Last Sunday after church, when I came home after church, I saw a neighbour across the road securing a tarpaulin to the roof of his garage. It looked like a tricky and unpleasant job, clambering over tiles slick with wet mould high above the ground. The top of the garage had been damaged by a tree. He was just finishing and declined my offer of help. We have had some doozy storms in the last couple of weeks. All over Adelaide, people have been doing repairs of one sort or another. The news has contained many images of the “I am glad that is not me” sort.
Storm damage has not been the headline bad news item, though. For a few weeks now, it seems like we have woken up regularly to yet another news story about some awful act of violence somewhere in the world. Some of these are random acts by people with disturbed minds; others are atrocities planned with calm calculation. In my message for this month, I would like to reflect on these terrorist events, focussing not on the reason behind them, but on how we might respond, just as my neighbour was not so much concerned with why a tree limb fell off, but with responding constructively to the reality of the damage.
The first observation is a negative one: God does not support terrorist programs; God does not support violence in the name of ethnic, racial or religious differences. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it is not. It is a biblical option which we have heard in several passages read in worship in July. For example, in the story of the Good Samaritan, a person who is ethnically and religiously different from the audience is seen to do the work of God’s love. At the very least, this story shows that we should not make judgments about a person based on the group they belong to. The words of the prophet Hosea take this further. In Hosea 1, the coup and religious pogrom of Jehu are rejected (Hosea 1:4-5; 2 Kings 9-10). The background is complicated. In essence, those whom Jehu killed were opponents of the traditional worship of Israel, and even people who had taken violent actions against worshipers of God (Jezebel, prophets of Baal), a bit like the modern day ISIS in political and religious terms. Thus, in Hosea, violence against others who have shown violence towards us is rejected, even if we think our response is holy – though today, we might update the term “holy” to “maintaining the stable culture and traditions of our society.”
The implication is this: too often, the response to terrorist violence is to increase the force used to head off this violence. Violence is met with violence. Of course, some strength is needed to control the situation, but the danger is that in opposing terrorist violence, we will grow to be more and more like the terrorists, gradually replacing love for those who are different with injustice in the name of threat management. The seeds of such a change can be heard in many recent political statements. We must strive to head off this process.
How then do we respond, positively? In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God’s Kingdom come. Usually, this “coming” is interpreted in temporal terms, as something in the future. But the verb “to come” has a strong spatial sense. We don’t invite someone to come to dinner without specifying a location. I wonder, then, if it would be helpful to imagine that when we are praying for the kingdom to come that we are calling for the community of God’s love to come “here,” to where we are, to North Terrace, to Adelaide.
In my readings recently, I came across this quote made in the wake of 9-11 by Stephen Gould: “Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often un noted and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.”
How then should we respond to the recent spate of terrorist atrocities? By praying for God’s kingdom, a community imbued with divine love, to come here, and then by redoubling our efforts to carry out small acts of kindness and love. When you hear of the next atrocity, call to mind some recent events when someone has been gracious or helpful to you, or when you have shown a kindness (small or large) to another. In this way, may we be able to build and rebuild the community of God’s love.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
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