Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . .” Thomas Jefferson, – Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII
Decades later, Abraham Lincoln also trembled at God’s justice. Lincoln often quoted Jefferson and wondered if the horrific death and carnage of the American Civil War had been made necessary to balance the scales of justice and to “repay every drop of blood shed by the lash of bondsman“.
And 150 years after Lincoln, I tremble too. Indeed, today I am shaking. The events in Charleston, South Carolina this past Wednesday, the murder of nine by-all-accounts loving, upstanding Americans in of all places, a place of worship has moved me and shaken me.
What has disturbed and shaken me the most is not the loss itself of Reverend Pinckney and his congregants, though I feel tremendous loss at our having lost these loving people so soon. It is not the depth of hate in alleged the shooter that has shaken me. I have seen such hate before and I will not respond with hate but rather sadness at the hell this person has lived that led them to such horrific deeds.
What has me absolutely shaking and trembling for our fates is the reactions of so many people to this tragedy. This morning, as I indulged my privilege and good fortune to enjoy a nice breakfast at my hotel, a privilege I know is not available to literally billions of people in the world nor even the vast majority of Americans, I listened to the television coverage. I listened to the voices of “leaders” on television discuss Charleston while they indulge even more privilege and fortune than I. And I returned to my room crying and praying for mercy.
I heard self-proclaimed Christians say that guns are not part of the problem. They said guns are part of the solution. I heard and read NRA leaders advocate for preachers and pastors to carry guns. I was raised a Christian. It is the path to God, spirituality, transcendence, forgiveness, love, and unity that I know best. I do understand these claims and I do not understand. Guns represent only one thing. They have only one purpose. It is destruction. It is the ending of life. Even in hunting, that is it’s purpose. But beyond the purpose of ending life, guns serve another function. For many, for those I heard, guns become an idol. They represent power. These people have replaced God with their guns. You cannot love God and guns too.
I heard other people claim the tragedy was about a “war on Christianity” and not a racist, hate-motivated attack. Such a claim is to deny the stark reality and the shooter’s own words. Such a claim is an attempt to deny the honor that we should be giving these slain loving people. Instead it is an attempt to vainly claim the honor for yourself as if somehow you had been attacked.
Ferguson. Charleston. Cleveland. Baltimore. Charleston again. And too, too many others to count. The evidence is plain. It is our hate. It is our love of guns and destruction. It is our fears driven by ego and alienation that has killed these people. It is our hate and fear and choice not to love that perpetuates the oppression. Only we can end it. Each and every one of us must look inward and truly challenge ourselves to change and own to our contribution. Do we send the membership fees to the NRA that feed the worship of guns instead of God? Do we not challenge our friends, relatives, and neighbors when they repeat hate and alienation? Do we return only hate and revenge ourselves when we are hurt? Or do we return hate with love?
God is just. Or more specifically, God’s world is just. But God is also love and merciful. We are the difference in how God reacts. If we choose love, mercy, and understanding, God is merciful. But when we choose to continue in alienation, God’s justice will out.
I know the language I use here is that of Christianity. As I said, it’s what I know I best. But all the other traditions are the same. The ways of Islam, Hinduism, the Buddha, and even natural atheism are similar.
You can call it God’s justice, the wrath of Allah, the Tao, Karma, or just natural laws of action-and-reaction. Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence.
There is one way out. We must all look inward. Examine ourselves honestly. And choose to change. We must embrace love.
Yes. I fear for my country at the thought that God is just. But, I am not without hope. Indeed, even in the midst of fear for our future, God has spoken hope and love has shown it is more powerful than any gun. I have seen the videos of the son of one of the victims in Charleston. His mother’s legacy is love. It shows. Let our legacy be love too.