By Joshua Madson
We are told that the world changed on September 11, 2001. Under this rationale, our nation has curtailed individual liberties, invaded foreign lands, pre-emptively attacked another nation, detained individuals indefinitely, sent other individuals to secret black sites to be tortured or worse, and even engaged in torture itself. When we buy into this logic, we forget the truth; the world did not change on 9/11, the world changed in 33 A.D. It was then that a man despised by those in his community, denounced by his religion, and eventually killed, showed the world what God was truly like. If we have seen him, we have seen the Father. He taught us that to be like God and become children of God we must love even our enemies and asked us to be perfect in this alone. He then showed the world how to be a Son of God as he loved all humanity, even his enemies, even to the cross.
Modern scripture reveals that the work and glory of God is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” It is here that we are given a concise understanding of God, his character, and his attributes. Implicit in this statement is the understanding that God’s work encompasses all of humanity regardless of race, class, nationality, or any other false division man creates. Also implicit in this statement is the fact espoused by his Son, that God makes the sun shine and the rains fall on both the righteous and the wicked. Indeed, his work and glory is found even among those we cast off and despise.
What we often miss is that the heart of God’s work and glory, Christ’s teachings, and life is the understanding that people are not means but ends. In fact, all of creation, all of God’s works, all of our religion are all for naught if people are seen as means. There is no cause, no matter the rhetoric, worthy of any support if people are used as a means and not the end.
As we look at our own lives, our communities, and our nation can we truly say that people are the ends? What would our lives be like if we sought to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man? How would our communities function? And what of our nations? If a nation saw people as ends could it ever justify taking one life in the name of “national” interest? Could we truly justify killing people in Iraq, Iran, or any nation as means to our own ends of national security or at worst economic security?
When we see things as God does, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that in war people are no longer ends; they are no longer children of God, but expendable. As Eugene England pointed out, they are the means for some other “higher more ’just’ end. By donning a uniform they lose all humanity and claim upon us and now are mere targets to kill or maim. In warfare this extends even to civilians who are acceptable ‘collateral’”. In this very act, we show how unlike God we are. We no longer seek the eternal happiness of man, but like some ancient Greek Titan, treat humanity as play things, “as flies to wanton boys” killing for sport. We may tell ourselves it is for freedom, security, or some grand cause but in the end, we do it because we love ourselves more than our neighbor and more than God.
Even the concept of nation is at odds with God’s purposes. Can any nation truly rain on both the just and unjust, and seek all individuals’ eternal happiness and life independent of their national affiliation? The very concept of nation is based on a false division of humanity, and rests on the treatment of others as means; means for whatever cause, interest, or collective fear is in vogue. All nations secure power over others through the use of force. By playing on the fears of the day, whether they be nuclear holocaust, biological weapons, terrorism, economic ruin, or the infamous weapons of mass destruction, nations teach us the gospel of division, that we are not all God’s children. Whoever “they” are, they are not us. They are different, the other, aliens, foreigners, hardly even human.
We forget that the people living in the nation of Iraq are first and foremost our brothers and sisters, children of God. Our national ideology teaches us they are no longer fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, children of God, but means. With labels of Iraqi, Muslim, terrorist, and worse, we lie to ourselves and to God about our relationship to one another. In the end, we do not seek their immortality and eternal life, but our own security at the expense of our brothers and sisters now deemed expendable, no longer children of God. And for doing this, we call ourselves patriots.
If not fear, nations use our baser desires of greed, consumerism, and lust. The world’s resources and markets are no longer the world’s but something for us as a nation to seek, obtain, and control—even if God’s children die or suffer by our hand. Under the aegis of nationalism, we wash our hands of the economic, social, and violent oppression of our brothers and sisters. Again, with false divisions we do not seek the immortality and eternal life of man, but seek to satisfy the very lusts of our flesh.
The reality is that all nations are founded on false divisions, preach division, and that if a nation began to see people as ends and sought the eternal happiness and immortality of all men, it would soon no longer be a nation, but instead would be a community. A community with no fence, no borders, instead this: “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.”
Being a Christian means living “as if nothing has changed.” 9/11 did not change the world. A hundred 9/11’s could not change what it means to be a Christian. If Christ truly is Lord, then we follow him, even to the cross. Saving one’s life is not the highest virtue, much less national security. If we are to have nations, let us strive to become children of God, strive to treat all people as ends, to seek the happiness of all and not just our own nation, state, community, or selves. Let us strive to love our enemies and be perfect in at least that one thing. And let us look forward to the day when we no longer have nations, classes, or any other false division but are all partakers in the heavenly gift.