By now almost everyone has heard of the terrible tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday, in which two bombs killed three people and injured many others. Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy who had been waiting for his father to finish the race.
Words fail to describe the horror of such a scene. One of the more common responses to tragedies such as this is anguish. Many ask, How could anyone do this?
Most of us are deeply disturbed by such acts and can never imagine ourselves doing something so terrible. But what we don’t usually see is that left to ourselves, while we may not be given to evil, all of us are given to preserving our own life. While we could not imagine ourselves doing such a terrible act of violence, our decision to live for ourselves – our primary commitment to preserving our own life – means that in the face of darkness fear takes over, and the best we can do is to try to protect ourselves and those we love. This is how evil wins.
I have been reading through the gospels lately, and I have been struck all over again by some of the radical things Jesus said. He called his followers to be willing to die for him, and he wasn’t talking about terrorism – or Crusades either. He was talking about radical, sacrificial obedience to the way of the cross. He was talking about being willing to suffer for the sake of love.
This seems strange to most of us. It’s certainly contrary to our normal human desire to preserve our own life. I mean, who really wants to suffer and die?
The apostle Paul had been a terrorist before he met the risen Christ. He had made it his business to seek out, terrorize and persecute Jews who had come to believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was risen from the dead and was Israel’s Messiah. Like today’s Islamic terrorists, or the medieval Crusaders, he was completely sincere – he believed he was doing the will of God. Yet even in his sincerity, he was a violent and wicked man – as he himself later admitted after his life was turned around when the risen Jesus encountered him. For the rest of his life he would serve the One whose people he had hitherto persecuted. The same thing has happened to some of today’s Islamic terrorists, notably Walid Shoebat and others.
This morning I was reading some of Paul’s words and they really got my attention. He says that he always carried the death of Jesus in his body. This seems like a strange and even morbid thing to say. But then he goes on to say that because he carried the death of Jesus in his body, he was able to manifest the life of the risen Jesus in his life.
Consider for a moment. Even if you don’t get killed by a terrorist, you are going to die anyway. You can’t avoid it. But Jesus didn’t even try to avoid his death. In fact, he freely embraced it for the sake of others, and now He is alive forever, the first of many who have entrusted their lives to Him and who will share His glory when he returns to rule the earth openly. Could this be what it means to carry his death in my body – to embrace the fact that I am going to die one way or another, and to crucify my own ambitions, hopes and fears so that Jesus can live his life in and through me?
If I am truly given to Jesus, if I have died to my own goals and ambitions, I believe it is possible to face horror unafraid. Not only unafraid, but able to give life to others without becoming bitter, hardened or discouraged – because it is his life I am giving, not my own. This is the testimony of the first apostles and many of those who have followed him since then.
Have I already attained this? Far from it. But that’s how I want to respond to this tragedy. For me, while sobering, it is a salutary reminder that I am a broken man who needs – and has found – a Saviour, that my life now belongs to Him, and that the life that is truly life is found only in living as a servant, friend and lover of the One who gave his life for me.