Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday and the Brussels bombings

Suicide bombers killed 20 and injured approximately 200 in Brussels this week. I doubt that the attacks, which ISIS celebrated as well-deserved revenge for the Belgium police having arrested the last person suspected of participating in the Paris bombings, were timed to occur during Holy Week. The coincidence, however, prompted a couple of musings.

First, one of Lent's themes is to remind Christians of their own mortality. On Ash Wednesday, ashes are imposed with the words, Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Birth comes with an inescapable presumption of death. Most persons prefer to imagine a large measure of control over when and how death will occur. In fact, death most often comes in an unexpected way and at an unpredictable moment. Suicide bombings underscore both the unexpectedness and unpredictability of most death. Perhaps that accounts for a large measure of the terror such attacks cause. Paul Tillich's theology emphasized existential anxiety rooted in life's finitude and described the good news of Christianity as inviting people to live courageously.

Second, terrorism is not the real source of our fears. By former US counterterrorism official and scholar Daniel Benjamin's count, in the fifteen years since 9/11 European terror attacks killed 426 and US terror attacks killed 45 (those totals include both the Brussels bombings and San Bernardino shootings). That means terrorists have killed just three persons in the US per year since 9/11, a number that pales in comparison to other risks people routinely ignore, e.g., the risk of dying in one's bathtub or in an auto accident. We humans do a terrible job of assessing vulnerability, prioritizing threats, and responding appropriately. According to the gospels, neither the Romans nor Jewish religious leaders knew how to cope with an itinerant teacher and miracle worker who called for people to prioritize loving God and one another. Why do we run from Jesus, preferring the saccharine domesticated plastic idol to the real flesh and blood prophet?

Third, life is precious, at least partially, because life is fragile and short. Jesus' death demonstrated the power of love to triumph over death. He refused to betray God or us in order to avoid facing execution on charges of insurrection. How much is love worth to you? Will you pay the price, and perhaps only you will know what that price is, to love those whose lives intersect with yours more dearly and more completely? This is how a disciple picks up her/his cross and follows Jesus, facing her/his own Good Friday(s).

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