If you hit a pedestrian while you are driving, you must stop immediately and offer all possible assistance to the victim. This is the law, and it is a clear Christian imperative as well. You have a responsibility to try to mitigate the injury you have caused, even if unintentionally.
If, on the other hand, you are a great nation and you invade a country, harming many thousands of victims, you can simply keep going and deny all responsibility whatsoever. The only exception is if you miscalculate and lose, in which case you will be found guilty of war crimes and punished severely.
At the end of the Second World War, the German playwright Gunter Reutenborn wrote “The Sign of Jonah,” in which he tried to find who was guilty of causing the war. Everyone had an alibi; they didn’t know what was really happening, they were secretly opposed, they were following orders, they were confused by the profusion of alternate facts, they were not in control… you get the idea. Only God was left to answer and it was pointed out that the earth is the Lord’s, and therefore he had no alibi. He was sentenced to death and crucified instead of all the others.
The Arab League is composed of all the Arabic-speaking nations. They virtually never all agree on anything. But in early 2003, they unanimously warned the United States that invading Iraq “would open the gates of Hell.” The U.S. promptly invaded, and “shock and awe” swiftly was victorious over the army of Saddam Hussein. And it opened the gates of Hell. It turns out Hussein was the key to controlling the many and varied movements in Iraq and served as an effective buffer between Iran and the Arab world. Radical and violent Islamic fanatics took the stage, replacing Hussein’s secularist religious tolerance. More than a decade after the war was officially over, the consequences keep happening and have spread extensively to Syria as well. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions have had to flee homes, jobs, school, everything.
Mostly, these are people on the other side of the world, speaking a language few of us understand. Not many of us can relate directly. In our media world, sometimes an image can speak to us, a three-year old child washed up on the beach, drowning while trying to flee. His aunt lives in British Columbia not so far from us, and spoke quite movingly about the family. It brings home that these are real people, not shadows from another world. They are doctors, lawyers, farmers, engineers, cooks, businessmen and women, factory workers, teachers, nurses, the same occupations as here, they are Christians and Muslims, all crammed into Zodiacs on the sea or massive pathetic camps in the desert. There are now millions of them in a process which has been going on for some years now.
In absolute dictatorships, such as Nazi Germany, the people are not asked what they think. But in democracies, major decisions are made with the assent of the majority. When President George W. Bush wished to invade Iraq, he first asked Congress, those we have elected to represent us, for authority to do so, and received its concurrence. Very few were defeated at the polls for making the wrong decision. The nation approved.
No longer. In hindsight, most politicians scurry for cover when reminded of their support for the war. They will tell you they didn’t understand the consequences until later, they had reservations but their patriotism drove them, they were obeying their Commander-in-Chief, they were misled by alternative facts about “weapons of mass destruction,” they thought it was a popular thing… you get the idea.
We have no photo or picture of Jesus. He lived long before photography at a time when any image was reserved for the rich and famous, which Jesus deliberately was not. The advantage of this, despite later attempts to paint him, is that we don’t know what he looked like. Whenever we look into a man’s face, we could be looking at Jesus. Jesus tells us that when we help the least of his brethren or sisters (see Matthew 25), we are helping him. Every face looks like the face of Jesus.
Only a small minority of the faces in the world are American. A much larger number, however, are impacted by what America does. Christian compassion, re-enforced by Jesus’ mandate that the most important godly thing we do is to help others, should lead us to great efforts to help the millions in dire need around the world and at home.
Lent is a time to review life, to reflect on what has gone wrong among us. For individuals, it is a time to amend each life. But Christianity is also communal. Together with the individual reflection is a need for a review of our shared life as American Christians. As Christians, we live for the sake of others. Lent is equally a time to reflect with others, the amendment needed in our shared life.
This means taking responsibility for our own actions. Most of us understand that concept for our individual lives. But there seems to be a sudden disconnect when we ask, as decision-making citizens in a democratic nation, what our responsibility is for those whom we have injured. The refugees today in the Middle East are fleeing the consequences of America’s actions. Other countries, both those with Christian and with Muslim heritages, have responded with compassion to take hundreds of thousands, some even millions, of refugees. The United States accepts a miniscule number, appearing to have no conscience for what we have wrought.
One reaction to this statement might be to observe that the refugees are not fleeing from the guns of the U.S., but of other parties, mostly Islamic fanatics. It is an easy answer, but it begs the question of how such scoundrels are operating with great impact. There is no way to answer that without implicating American actions since 2003 in both Iraq and Syria. If you do not see the cause and effect, the correlation, as it were, between the accident with the pedestrian and the consequent damage, I urge you to do the research. If you already understand how U.S. policy has caused the destabilization, we are back to Lenten musing. Are we going to take responsibility for what this citizen-nation has done? If so, more than a million faces of Jesus are looking at us in need, asking “how long?”
With Easter came a new resurrected life for both Jesus and his followers. As a consequence, we are to be the leaven in the lump, to put aside the old, sinful ways in living the resurrected life given in baptism, in which we rejoice. In Lent, we try to “clear the decks” of our distracted, cluttered and just plain sinful lives to better receive the gift of resurrection celebrated every Easter. You know how to do that as an individual. Now do it as a part of a responsible nation of citizens.
Who is in charge here?