Lee Griffith William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Grand Rapids, Michigan 2002
Anyone who has received an e-mail from me will notice a quote from a Central American poet – Julia Esquivel. I end each message with her conviction. It is mine. It is also the key to understanding Lee Griffith’s recent work: The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God.
Esquivel writes: “Accompany us then, on this vigil and you will know what it is to dream! You will then know how marvelous it is to live threatened with Resurrection. To dream awake, to keep watch asleep, to live while dying and to already know oneself resurrected.”
Griffith takes a frank look at the historical events and modern forces contributing to terrorism. Terrorism and counter-terrorism are the same thing when viewed from a spirituality deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Griffith notes well that both terrorism and counter-terrorism call on the bible and varied religious traditions to justify terrible and brutal acts of violence. This is also true of western leaders who use religious language as they respond to September 11th, 2001 and prepare to attack Iraq. The West truly believes that it has constructed a society and culture built on Judeo-Christian values and principles. A closer look might indicate otherwise. The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God names a different sense of things. Griffith leads us in a true unmasking of the powers and principalities that drive our body politic. He reminds us of words spoken by Vaclav Havel in his inaugural address as Czech president: “My dear fellow citizens, for 40 years on this day you heard from my predecessors the same thing in a number of variations: how our country is flourishing, how many millions of tons of steel we produce, how happy we all are, how we trust our government, and what prospects lie ahead of us. I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, should lie to you.” However before we become too self righteous, may I remind you that Havel ended his inaugural reflections by stating: “When I talk about the contaminated moral atmosphere, I mean all of us.” Did not former Prime Ministers say “No” to free trade in the Americas and then later become champions of it and we continued to vote them into office! And in our neighbour to the South Alexis de Tocqueville could note: “ I know no country in which generally speaking, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America… In America the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence.”
As President Bush prepares for a strike against Iraq in an attempt to remove its president, let us not forget the reminder offered us by William Stringfellow: “ Blasphemy occurs in the existence and conduct of a nation whenever there is such profound and sustained confusion as to the nation’s character, place, capability, and destiny that the vocation of the Word of God is pre-empted or usurped. Thus the very presumption of the righteousness of the American cause as a nation is blasphemy.” The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God tries to have us understand that: “the kingdom of God is not among us as a mighty nation but as a mustard seed.”
I found Griffith’s reflections and his biblical mining of the terror of God rich and enlightening. The terror of God is love. The terror of God is the fact of the Resurrection. Nation States and terrorists live and thrive on fear. Fear is the language of death. Love is the gesture of life. The terrorist – nation or rogue – threatens to send you to death or even hell! But even in hell one cannot escape the presence of the love of God in the Resurrection of Jesus. “This is the terror of God from which we cannot hide because, in Jesus, God invades not only the earth but hell itself. God is the one who decides to go to hell.” Don’t we Christians pray in our creed: “And he descended into hell…” St. Paul says the same in a different way: “Nothing can separate us from the love that God has for us….” The evidence is in the bloody murder of Jesus denounced by resurrection. He lives.
War on Terrorism and the Terror of God opens us, as have many other contemporaries, to the truth of the Book of Revelations. Revelations is a book about terror defeated rather than terror inflicted which is why worship and liturgy are such central features of the book. “The Book of Revelations unveils the hiding places of the powerful and of the rest of humanity as well.” Revelations points out that the Beast cannot be killed with violence. The Beast is strengthened by all violent assaults.” Indeed it is the resurrection that John of the Book of Revelations identifies as the terror of God. The resurrection is depicted as the terror of God arrayed against Beast and Empire.
For many of us, in the North of the Americas with our superficial theological reflection and spirituality, we need to hear well the comments of the German theologian Johann B. Metz: “The questions that concern apocalyptic vision (Book of Revelations) most deeply – to whom does the world belong? To whom do its sufferings and its time belong? – have, it would seem, been more effectively suppressed in theology than anywhere else.”
As a Canadian citizen I ponder often the worlds written in 1948 by George Kennan then head of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff: “ We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population… Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming…. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the standard of living and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
No, Mr. Kennan, the Christian is called to witness to the one and only antidote to terror – the Resurrection of Jesus. “All of the principalities and powers experience this resurrection as the terror of God insofar as it unveils the defeat of death, and it is the sting of death that has served as the foundation of both terrorism and the war on terrorism.”
The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God belongs in your hands, its contents part of a reflective way of life.
“You must never look too closely at the making of sausages or Empires. You will be repulsed.”
Paul E. Hansen