A reader commented on last week’s post about ‘American Foreign Policy and Islam’ with “Ummmm....ouch?” I emailed her for clarification. Essentially, she was acknowledging the truth of the idea that the truth does hurt sometimes. Our conversation resulted in the following thoughts.
There were some squishy spots for me as I wrote that post. I want to believe that we usually do the right thing as a nation. I am convinced we do a better job than most other super powers in history, but not as good as we would like. It is strange that no matter how paradisaical a human institution is, there is a dark underbelly to it that supports and sustains the alabaster beneficence. That's one reason why we long for heaven, because we cannot create it here.
The more difficult question is--the people that do the work in the underbelly do things that most people find reprehensible. Are they bad people? Are they good people doing bad things for the greater good? Does that last question even make sense morally? Should we support a system that requires those choices be made? When the actions of these people are brought to light, how do we and, separately, how should we, handle them? Are they heroes, or villains, or something in-between--servants who carry out disagreeable work and made the mistake of allowing their work to be seen by the wrong people? At what point do they bear moral responsibility of their actions and at what point are they given a pass for following orders? Where should the buck stop? Especially in a nation "of the people, by the people and for the people."
What do we as a people need to sacrifice in order to have a morally consistent government? Are we willing to give those things up? It is easy to get outraged, for example, when a group of soldiers torture a prisoner, but is it justifiable to prevent further attacks? What if you found out YOU were the one who would have been killed had that attack been done? Does that change your view of torture? If it does, how do you respond to those who would have been safe anyway when they condemn the soldiers who saved your life? How do we even define torture?
I'm not asking or grilling you--these are what float through my head. I picked torture as a flashpoint issue more than as a personal one, but pick your favorite abuse of power or morality. I don't have an answer for these questions. I believe I am fairly wise for my age, but many of these are beyond me. This is why we need to let God be judge.
What guidance do we see from Scripture? Off the top of my head, Paul explains that government wields the sword by God's authority, so some things are 'ok' for government that aren't ok for individuals, apparently. Jesus and John the Baptist did not condemn soldiers for their profession, and mostly gave them restrictions on abusing their authority over civilians. When we look at the warfare in the Bible, we see Israel using spies, covert operations, and many different things at which we squirm today. Does that make those actions right? In some cases, God told them to. In others, there is no comment, for or against, so it is hard to discern.
Let’s raise the stakes even higher. God is judged by us humans for a large number of things we view as atrocities. A short list:
· The Indonesian tidal wave that killed hundreds of thousands
· The Haitian earthquake 1 year ago
· Killing His own Son on a cross
· Asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, then condemning people who do it as pagans, saying, “Such things never even occurred to me.”
· Putting Job through hell on earth, destroying his wealth, killing his 10 grown children all at once and giving him disease, all as some sort of celestial bet with Satan. Yeah, sure, he gave it all back to Job including 10 new kids, but that doesn’t help the first ten all that much.
· Commanding the Hebrews as they invade Canaan to kill every human, even women, infants, children and the old. (and even in some cases, the livestock!)
· And so on.
Ultimately, God's moral perfection is more real, wilder, and not as clean cut as we would like it. Once again, He blows our expectations out of the water. We equate goodness with naïveté, with niceness, and so on, and God is anything but. As Western Christians, we seem to spend a lot of time defending strange actions and words by God to non-believers. Maybe we should spend that time trying to understand why He does them and conform our image to His rather than His to ours.
Then Job replied to the LORD:
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
“He is not a tame Lion.”