"Do Not Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls, It Tolls for Thee..."
Jerry from Luzon (in the Philippines), aboard the MS Oosterdam. From my collection: 'Imago Dei.'
"Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." -- John Donne
This week a very bad man was killed. He was responsible for the death of thousands. Hunting him down was the right thing to do. We were working at Ft. Meyer when we learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Every morning we would drive past the West side of the Pentagon on our way to work. I'd think often of a woman named Louise who had worked at the Pentagon on September 11 when the plane hit. Burned over most of her body, she was lovingly cared for by her husband through a long and painful recovery. For me they became the face of 9/11 as I would pray. Justice had been served.
But one of my colleagues reminded me of another side of this. Here was a man possessed by evil inclinations, who's soul was entering a very dark eternity. I thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who struggled honestly with his knowledge of the evil being perpetrated by the National Socialists. His response, as a Christian, was to join in an attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He wrestled with this matter. We should too.
The two students who killed their fellow students at Columbine High School were victims of their acts as well. Cho was destroyed as he destroyed others at Virginia Tech. The young killers of the Fogel family destroyed something of their own humanity as they butchered sleeping children.
History is full of the sad stories of shipwrecked lives. There are other stories too, full of noble acts (like those of Louise's husband) and redemption. When his daughter, Ruth Fogel and his grandchildren were murdered in Itamar, Rabbi Ben-Yishai expressed deep pain but no anger or calls for vengeance, He was asked: “Where do you have the strength and restraint that you can talk now and strengthen us, without anger and without calling for vengeance – that is not in your voice? Where is the strength from?" Ben Yishi responded: "I have worked in education many years, and as an educator, I try to strengthen and teach people faith. I understand that I cannot be satisfied with words and that I also must implement the same principles on which I have educated others. This is a test of my faith."
The Epistle writer, Paul, was once a terrorist. A religious zealot who sought to destroy Christianity, Paul became the scourge of the naiscant church, until he encountered Christ himself. We, who are the beneficiaries of so much Judeo-Christian influence in our society, often miss the redemptive and transformative wonder. Paul knew what he was and what he had become. He never forgot it.
And so, when such redemptive power is available to frail humanity, the life that it does not impact is nothing short of a tragedy!
"But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." -- 2 Peter 3:8,9