Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Praying for Osama

I could be wrong, goodness knows my theology is weak enough, but I think that as Christians we ought to pray for Osama bin Laden. Or Usama bin Laden. (Funny thing about languages that don't use the Latin script, there's lots of ways to transliterate. But the point of this isn't languages, it's theology.)

To the best of our information and belief after some reasonable inquiry, it was Osama bin Laden who hit the United States on 11 September 2001. It was, I think we'll all have to admit, one hell of an op---inventive, daring, low-tech and devastatingly effective. That day over three thousand of us died. They weren't all Americans, but they were all here, in America, going about their business, doing their thing, thinking about lunch or the girl in the sweater down the hall, or any of the things that people think about.

Now, I'm tribal. I've got a strong strain of Celtic blood in me, and I'm a Texan on both sides going back four or five generations, and for those reasons, among many others . . . well, not to put too fine a point on it, but I want Osama bin Laden's head on a pike. I believe in payback. At boot camp, they taught us that payback is a medevac. Actually, there was another term they used, but I'm moderating my language. (Hint: twelve letters, you figure it out.)

As Sean Connery's character said in Brian de Palma's movie "The Untouchables," "If he sends one of yours to the hospital, send one of his to the morgue." I believe in payback for a number of reasons. One of them is simply tribal blood lust. Another is that I believe that unchecked aggression tends to grow, and a swift rebuke tends to deter aggression. I'm not sure where the line is drawn between those two reasons, but I know that they are both operative within me.

At the same time, I am a Christian. I believe in, and worship, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God made flesh here on Earth to suffer for us, to redeem us for our sins. The Perfect Lamb. Jesus Christ was reviled, tortured, abused and killed (and crucifixion is an agonizingly painful way to die, which is why the Romans used it as a punishment).

"Forgive them, Father," He said, "for they know not what they do."

That's a hard one, isn't it? "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Notwithstanding the Lord's Prayer, it is human nature to want to punish those who trespass against us. I don't initiate violence against others, and so, if violence is initiated against me, I want to strike back, and hard. And yet, as Christians, are we not supposed to strive to be Christ-like? Should we not strive---such as our frail, flawed, fallen and fallible nature will permit----to walk with Christ?

There is some cognitive dissonance going on here. I think I can hold the two ideas together--the desire to be Christ-like and the desire to strike back (for its deterrent effect), by bearing in mind that Christians are supposed to be in this world, but not of it.

In this world, as I said above, I want Osama bin Laden's head on a pike. He hit us, and I'm not much on tolerating that. At the same time, I try to pray for Osama. I try to pray that he gets the Good News, the Evangelion. I try to pray that the love of Christ, the boundless love of God Himself will penetrate Osama's hardened soul.

As I said, I try to pray for Osama. I'm not sure if I'm succeeding. I say the words, I try with all my heart to mean them, but I don't think I succeed. I still want his head on a pike. I still want to break him on the rack, I still want to punish him for his sins.

If we can pretend, for a moment, that the love of Christ gets to Osama, would that excuse his actions? Well, once more, we're dealing with a two world issue. (That's kind of like the "two state solution" but, umm, that's another topic for another discussion.) In this world, I don't think anything can excuse his actions. I still want his head on a pike, but frankly I'd settle for a really long jail term (in, let us pretend, a Turkish prison). In the next world, well, yes, if the love of Christ gets to Osama, he would be saved. Salvation! Another soul redeemed from Hell. Isn't that the goal of Christianity? Don't we want to save souls? Don't we want to spread the Good News? And haven't we all sinned against God? I am a sinner, and I want salvation for myself, and for all the other sinners.

And so I try to pray for Osama. I pray, or try to pray, that God's love touches him, and opens his eyes. To those who say it could never happen, I humbly point out that as a Christian I believe that God is the Author of All, and nothing is beyond the work of His hands. I might also mention one of the (many) great men of Christianity, the emperor Constantine I. Without going into detail about his career before his salvation, I think it's reasonable to assume that Constantine was responsible for the deaths of many more people than Osama bin Laden, and yet he accepted Christ and ended the persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire. (Perhaps an argument could be made that Constantine's butcheries were more nobly motivated than Osama bin Laden's---but I'm not going there.) If Christ could open Osama's eyes, who knows how many Muslims might also be led to "the only way to the Father"? And wouldn't that be a good thing?

I could be wrong about all of this, of course. My theology is weak, I've read the Bible but not gone all textual analysis on it. It's how I see things, though, after thinking some on it. (We Baptists are big about thinking on theology all on our lonesome, or at least we used to be.) My gut wants to rip and tear at Osama bin Laden, like a slavering beast. Trying to be a Christian isn't always easy, and I still think Osama bin Laden must be stopped (and be shown to have been stopped), but I also think that I ought to be praying for Osama.

And so I try, I really try.

God's love, y'all.

I could be wrong

I could be wrong.

We live in a time when a lot of things are happening. There is a technological revolution going on, a cheapening of the costs of international transactions, a time of flux in international relations. Upheavals inspire uncertainty, uncertainty inspires fear and concern, and sometimes fear and concern lead to shrilly asserted certainties.

Me, I don't buy into the trope of perfect understanding. I think it was Plato who wrote that perfection exists only in the mind of God. (I could be wrong on that quote attribution!) Man is, by his nature, flawed, fallen and fallible. As a Christian, I like to think that being "3F" is bad, but being "4F" is good, and that the fourth f is "forgiven."

My goal here is simply to try and think a little about what I see going on in the world, and to try to apply my reason to what I see. My reasoning capacity is shaped by a myriad of factors: the experiences I've undergone, the readings I have done, the world-view I have formed, the time and the place and (yes, Margaret) the class I belong to. I am, in no particular order, a Christian, husband, father, former Marine, semi-reformed lawyer, Texan, American, and a child who first popped onto the scene in 1966. All of those things have shaped who I am, and thus how I view the world.

Everyone tries to apply their understandings to the world. I am not so vain as to suppose that, in the instance of a disagreement, I must be right, and those who disagree with me must be wrong. It is tempting, and seductive, to assume that how I see the world is how the world really is.

But I could be wrong.