When Darkness Reigns

Week of Monday, September 17, 2001

September 11, 2001

A few years ago I purchased a high quality stereo system, and there are few days if any that I don't enjoy using it. Except for this week. Like many, I have felt distracted, found it hard to work, and watched an inordinate amount of CNN. With the tragedies of September 11, I've had no desire to listen to Mozart, Handel or Hayden. Doing so on the car radio even felt somehow sacrilegious during this time of shock and grief. I have felt more like the Psalmist in Psalm 137:1–3 who articulated the despair of a Hebrew exile banished to Babylon.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
We hung our harps,
For there our captors taunted us for songs,
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
They said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
The Psalms, brutally realistic and raw with human emotion, remind me that sometimes in life the only appropriate human response is to weep. The mistake of Job's counselors (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) was their attempt to explain Job's tragedy, even though “they met together by agreement to go and sympathize with Job and comfort him.” Later, God angrily rebuked them (Job 2:11, 42:7).

When Jesus was betrayed by the kiss of Judas and then arrested, his followers responded impulsively and as we might expect anyone in their position so to do: “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” No, Jesus said. He conceded to his enemies, “this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:47–53). Little could any of them have imagined that in putting these events into motion, and that out of this tragedy, would come the redemption of the world.

This week I have struggled to put together, on the one hand, an appropriate sense of patriotism, the desire for evil to be requited, and a sense of international justice to be restored; and, on the other hand, the Gospel imperative not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). Of course, the Gospels are not a manual for foreign policy. This is why when Jesus was before Pilate he said that “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). But somehow it is imperative for my kingdom identity to intersect my earthly identity, including something like foreign policy.

After the service of prayer and remembrance at Washington's National Cathedral on Friday September 14, I was shocked to hear Franklin Graham (son of his famous father Billy) say to his CNN interviewer that the United States should use all the military means at its disposal to respond to the terrorist acts, “including weapons of mass destruction.” As for pure pacifism, on the other hand, as Edmund Burke observed, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing” (as with the international non-intervention in Rwanda's genocide in 1994, when nearly a million minority Tutsis were systematically murdered by the majority Hutus).

Between these two extremes, the best I have come up with is as follows.

On the level of patriotism and foreign policy, I know I should pray “for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2), and all the more so since I know that some of our leaders, like National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, or former Attorney General Edwin Meese who attended our faculty fellowship at Stanford last spring, are people of genuine Christian faith. I don't quite know how to pray, but thank God that even ignorance is at times Biblical (Romans 8:26). At their best, these Christian prayers should have a global and not merely national vision, for God is the Lord of all history, peoples, governments and cultures.

On the personal level, I know that with great confidence, clarity and boldness I can pray the Peace Prayer ascribed to Saint Francis of Assisi (1182–1226).

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in self-forgetting that we find;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.

We do not know the author of this prayer, and it was not until the 1920s that it was even ascribed to Saint Francis. But it fittingly emulates his longing to be transformed into an agent of divine grace, peace and redemption in our fallen world.

Normally we think of prayer as an act of personal piety, as is the case with the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. But if you truly believe that God hears and answers prayer, that the creator is actively involved in sustaining and guiding human history, then prayer is also rightly understood as a radically political act too. May our prayers on both counts be pleasing to him.

The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself Copyright ©2001 by Dan Clendenin. All Rights Reserved.