The Haunts of Violence Filling the Land
History has a way of provoking life's most basic questions, sometimes with deadly force. Few incidents in recent memory have so aroused the national conscience to ask "why?" as has the callous and brutal act that leveled the federal building in Oklahoma City, bringing a violent halt to so many lives. Standing beside the ruins, newscasters relived the horror, and as the harsh reality took hold, the irrepressible "why?" kept surfacing. During the National Memorial Service virtually every eulogist--from preacher to politician--echoed that heartfelt cry for answers. A stunned nation bemoaned the act. One news journal captured the twin agonies of the perpetrators and the victims in the words "home-grown terror." A British paper labeled it as "America's loss of innocence." And the pain was only intensified when the arrests were made, for the principal suspects were from within, not from without.Unfortunately, in a society so paralyzed by symptomatic solutions one has to wonder whether we will learn anything from this mindless atrocity. For in reality, the question of "why?" in a violent act, as painful as this deed was, is nevertheless meaningless to raise unless we also ask the question of life itself--why are we here? But alas! that question is dismissed as no longer relevant in an academically sophisticated culture.
Is this not, then, a self-destructive contradiction for one who debunks the notion of objective morality? A whole host of secular thinkers glibly explained away the need for a Creator, and in positing a mindless, accidental universe, in effect stated that there is no need to ask "why?" of the Big Bang. Why, then, is it necessary to raise the question of any other explosion? It is evident that those who vent such hostility toward the absolute never take into account that they must then, forfeit the right to raise questions that imply a moral framework. Those who reduce the world to merely the physical cheat when they stray into the metaphysical.
In stark distinction, it is here once again that God's Word beckons with His pleas to a morally deaf world. Granted, the questions raised come from two groups. The deep and private pain of those for whom the loss is personal and devastating cannot be simplistically addressed. For them there is One who speaks from a Cross. But there is another side to this query, and that is in understanding how and why such hatred and murder can be conceived and nurtured in the human heart. To that question there is an answer, there are answers. "He who has an ear, let him hear."
Interestingly enough, the very first murder in the Bible did not occur because of two irreconcilable political theories. The murder of a man by his own brother was an act unmistakenly born out of their differing responses to God. Trapped by the temporal, Cain was deluded by the belief that he could vanquish spiritual reality with brute force. God saw the inevitable result of the jealousy and hatred deep within Cain's heart, and in a challenge that would determine his destiny, warned him to deal with it. "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."
There are only two options; either to come to God on His terms and find our perfect peace in His acceptance of us, or to "play God" with self-defining morality and kill--becoming as a result restless wanderers, ever running from the voice of our brothers' blood which cries out from the ground. At its core life is sacred and of inestimable value, whether it is the life of a darling child in the fresh blossom of childhood, or the life of an elderly, weak, and frail recluse. Both have one thing in common--they are made in the image of God. That is why in Genesis Chapter 9 murder is described for what it is, an attack upon God's image--a denial of our spiritual essence. It is that essence which gives us our dignity and our worth. It is that essence which is our glory.
We may try by intellectual duplicity to rearrange the furniture of life and define it only in material terms, but each time we sit back and read of the Oklahomas, the Bosnias, and the Rwandas of human experience we shift and turn with revulsion, realizing that there is no harmony in the secular "decor," for the cry within of the sacred cannot be suppressed. That is why a juror fled the courtroom at the sight of the savagery evidenced in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. That is the reason we scream forth "why?" to the Timothy McVeighs: we cannot silence the still, small voice inside that speaks of the intrinsic sanctity of life, and that it ought not to be violated. But how can we hold to such a double standard? We are the same America that is telling its young people that values cannot be invoked in public debate. We have glorified the sciences and humiliated the spiritual, and Oklahoma is the irrefutable evidence of what we have done to ourselves. Our newsrooms, with their technological advances, hum and buzz with activity, giving the impression that we are right on top of the situation, when underlying it all is a bankruptcy that is frightening.
Steve Turner, the English journalist, was right when he said:
"If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker."
Try as we will, this logical outworking of a denied absolute cannot be escaped. God said it to Cain then and He says it to us now. "If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door, and desires to have you." Cain became a murderer because he wilfully refused to worship the living God and chose, by violence, to enthrone himself.
But Cain's rejection of God's place in his life had one other result. It cut at the heart of God's plan for the family, and those entailments have been even more disastrous. For alienation and rejection from our very own, only breed more terror. This is an aspect of modern society we have grossly underestimated, and in the process we have robbed ourselves of even common sense. God is not only the Creator who defines us philosophically (essentially), but He is also the Provider who meets us existentially in our greatest need, and gives us the confidence and comfort that we are beloved and not orphaned in this world.
One can readily see how the absence of this truth played itself out in the life of a young inner-city lad named Shaul Linyear, who is now serving a prison sentence in New York. His story was recorded in an article in The New York Times that left the reader heavy-hearted. In the center of the page was a picture of Shaul as a two-year-old, all bundled up in a snowsuit. His eyes are focused beyond the doorway where he stands, looking with a yearning reach for his father who is standing outside. That picture prefigured his future, for his dad was to leave him shortly thereafter in the oft repeated saga of a family that has been abandoned by its father. Shaul wistfully stated in the interview, "I somehow wonder as I am here, if my life would have been different if I still had my father with me? I longed for him so often, but he was not there."
Setting aside our society's gender warfare for the moment, it is hard to bypass this national affliction. Psychologists are warning us more than ever of the connection between the absent father and the ever-present violence. For countless young people there is no one to demonstrably live before them a life of physical power that has been tamed by spiritual love and life-honoring commitment. Instead, young men with growing bodies and untamed passions, raised amid the fragmentary ruins of a fatherless home, angrily set out on a path to self-destruction. If it is true then, that fatherless homes can become the breeding grounds for violent children, what else can we expect in a world at large that has been told it has no Father? We have evicted God from the cosmic scene. We have orphaned ourselves and made ourselves destitute. There is no one to meet this need so deeply embedded within the human heart.
"For, brother, what are we? We are the sons of our father, whose face we have never seen, we are the sons of our father, whose voice we have never heard, we are the sons of our father, to whom we have cried for strength and comfort in our agony, we are the sons of our father, whose life like ours was loved, we are the sons of our father, to whom only can we speak out the strange, dark burden of our heart and spirit, we are the sons of our father, and we shall follw the print of his foot forever." (Thomas Wolfe)
In fact, Thomas Wolfe refers to this hunger as central to his own life, as it is to all of our lives.
"The deepest search in my life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was man's search to find a father, not merely the father of his flesh, not merely the father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and the power of his own life could be united."
This hunger, this longing to unite our strength to a superior one who is wiser than us, has now been mocked in society as we have come of age and have "repudiated the father." Indeed, the orphaned world has nothing left but to express this rupture in violence.
I'll never forget a lesson I learned years ago. My son, Nathan, asked me to enroll him in a T-ball league. I didn't know what T-ball was. I was raised in India playing cricket, and I thought T-ball was where you played ball and would be served tea by some kindly souls.
I said, "I'd love to do it for you, son." Little did I know what it all meant. The ball is placed on a tee and each player is given countless opportunities for the bat and the ball to make contact. Those in the know (with reason) set a maximum allowable score or the word "eternal" would find a new analogy! I would stand under a tree straining at being entertained by it all and, purely for the sake of my son, endure this for two to three hours every Saturday.
Nathan did something at T-ball that has left a very fond memory. Every time he ran to the base, he did what his coach told him to do. He'd get his hands on his knees and position himself to be ready. But then he'd do something his coach never taught him to do. Whenever he'd get to that base, he would look around in the distance to see if he could spot me under the tree and then he would raise his hand and clench his fist in triumph, as if to say, "Did you see me do that, Dad?" What a picture! What a lesson! The unblushing desire of a boy to gain the praise of his father.
The Apostle Paul voices this greatest of all satisfactions to the entire created order, saying that we are created for our heavenly Father's glory--for His praise. That is why we are here. What a moment it will be when you and I stand before Him, and He says, "Well done! Well done! Well done!" The Superior Wisdom, the Perfect Being granting the divine accolade. My heavenly Father will speak those words to me some day. This is what I strive for; this is what keeps me going. But we have robbed our young people of this anticipation. There is no one's praise to live for any more. Shaul Linyear represents millions all over the world today who do not know the thrill of someone who loves them, putting an arm around them and saying, "Well done, I'm proud of you." God's created order and God's care-filled involvement in our lives are intrinsic to the solution of violence.
It we are to ever find an anwer to our problem, there will need to be a radical shift in our understanding, and recognize not only the seen, but also the reality of the unseen, for the latter precedes the former. We would do well to take note that long before the Ryder truck exploded and gutted a building, an even greater implosion had taken place in the minds and hearts of those who set this carnage in motion. Human government cannot deal with that internal devastation, but God can. That "unseen" war is a spiritual struggle--the choice between turning to God or playing God. For that triumph only God is big enough, and the sooner we realize and acknowledge our need for Him the closer we will be to moving from the symptomatic and superfluous to the cure. Unless God is brought back into the major institutions of our land, sin is crouching at our door, and desires to have us.
Is there a practical starting point? Yes, there is--for God has faced this question before. In every instance where violence has stared the nation in the face, from the historian's chronicles to the prophetic voices, God always first challenged the leadership of the land to get their own lives in order. Unless and until those who are leaders in our country find the spiritual center in their own lives, anti-terrorism laws and increased law enforcement personnel will only put a temporary bandage on a fatal wound. Have those in leadership got the courage and the spiritual sensitivity to bend their knees to the superior wisdom of God, and acknowledge that reality to the nation?
The Bible tells us of a historic precedent given in a nationally defining moment, on the eve of Jacob's meeting with Esau. Years before, Jacob had stolen the blessing that belonged to his older brother, Esau. Now, after years of running there was no place left to run, and the fateful, and possibly violent meeting was to take place the following day. Jacob wrestled in prayer all through the night before, and finally said to God, "I will not let you go until you bless me." Of all that God could have said to Jacob to subdue him, He asked a most apparently innocent question: "What is your name?"
Only Jacob would have recognized the sharp edge of this question, for years before, when he had stolen the blessing that belonged to Esau, he had lied to his blind, earthly father, claiming to be Esau. Now, he could not deceive his omniscient heavenly Father, and so he readily admitted, "My name is Jacob." God applauded and commended Jacob's honesty, for until that point his name had symbolized all that was deceitful and duplicitous. And God said, "Now that you have acknowledged who you really are I will make a great nation out of you." A humble spirit bowed before God gives birth to true freedom.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn so wisely said, "The thin line between good and evil does not run within governments or ideologies but through the heart of every man, and every woman." Realizing this truth he added, "So thank you, prison, for being in my life." Maybe, just maybe, before the land is totally consumed with the haunts of violence, God's voice may still be heard from the ruins of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, calling our leadership and the nation back to God. In a strange way we may someday be able to look beyond the devastation and say, "Thank you for being in our lives." For then, and only then, can Oklahoma be a thing of the past and not the terrifying face of the onrushing future.