Living Life Under the Threat of Terrorism

The daily newspaper and television documentaries have been reminding me that we are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation. Newscasters have been interviewing survivors and family members of those who were killed. They are reliving before the cameras the terrible events of that September day in 2001.

Some of them fought back tears as they remembered fellow first responders, family members and co-workers who had died. Some testified to the new lease on life they had been given as survivors. Some shared deeply moving stories of their struggles with permanent injuries and PTSD.

Like you, I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when news of the destruction of the World Trade Center reached me. I was at Glen Eyrie, the home of the Navigators in Colorado Springs, attending meetings of a mission board. Flying home was out of the question. All commercial airlines were grounded for several days afterward. I remained at Glen Eyrie until I could get a flight home to Oklahoma City three days later.

Tomorrow we will remember the tragic events of September 11, the porous airports, the hi-jacked airliners, the heroism of the passengers on United Flight 93, the crash into the Pentagon, the rush to protect government officials, the confusion in the streets of New York City. We also recognize the profound changes to American life that have ensued, especially the willingness of Americans to trade privacy and personal freedom for increased security.

The precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Afganistan and the subsequent resurgence of the Taliban, has thoughtful people speculating about the possibility of new terrorist organizations emerging to threaten the United States of America. Some say that there have been “sleeper cells” of terrorists in our country all along, awaiting the opportunity to strike again with renewed confidence and deadly force. Is their signal to strike the anniversary we commemorate tomorrow?

What should we do? Should we close our borders and close our hearts? Should we load up on guns and ammo  and fuel our passions with suspicion, fear and prejudice? Should we hunker down and hide out until the second coming? What is our duty to one another, to ourselves, and to God as we seek to live healthy lives in a dangerous world?

You and I are not the first ones to ask such questions. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Oxford University scholar C.S. Lewis was invited to give a sermon at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford. This was occasioned by the uncertainty caused to Oxford undergraduates by the coming war with Germany. Lewis, himself a veteran of World War I, was asked to put world events into perspective for the young men of the university. How could they continue with their studies when war was imminent?

What Lewis said to those students about the war in Europe could apply as well to us living under the threat of terrorism. Permit me to extract just a few of the points he made. (To read his address in its entirety, you may find it online, or you may order the book of Lewis’s addresses edited by Walter Hooper, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses.)

Lewis said we must remember that the world has always been a dangerous place. Life has never really been “normal.” The war (or terrorism) “creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.” We must accept it.

He reminds us that the great Christians of the past “thought it is good for us to be always aware of our mortality. … We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it.”

Just as Lewis  believed the allied cause was just and that serving one’s country in the military was a legitimate duty, so it follows that he would agree that to oppose terrorism is a righteous cause. That said, it does not excuse or endorse every strategy, political, military, or covert that has been used in the war on terror. Those are prudential judgments to be made by the wisest of leaders under the guidance of God.

Ordinary people are not to suspend the ordinary course of life on account of the fear of terrorism. To the students living under the threat of war Lewis said that they should consider their work as scholars as work done for the glory of God. “The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord.'”

Just as we are not to live in fear, we are not to give in to futility and frustration with the thought that life is so tentative and uncertain that there is no use pursuing one’s dreams and goals, marriage, children, career, serving God. No!

C.S. Lewis wrote, “A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. … Happy work is best done by the (person) who takes his/her long-term view somewhat lightly  and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

” Christianity does not exclude any of the ordinary human activities. St. Paul tells people to get on with their jobs. He even assumes that they may go to dinner parties, even dinner parties given by pagans. … Under the aegis of his church and in the most Christian ages, learning and the arts flourish. The solution to this paradox is, of course, well known to you . ‘Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever ye do , do all to the glory of God.'”

One thing I noticed in the interviews with survivors of 9/11 is that they did not stop living. Nor were they living in fear. The were determined not to be defeated by the threat of terrorism. They embraced the gift of life.

Pastor Randy Faulkner