Stephen Carson: The Wrong Response

"You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent.” ~ Jeremiah 5:3 I was reading in the book of the prophet Isaiah. Israel is in trouble again as it so often is. There's a huge army backed by a much larger nation surrounding Jerusalem, they've already taken all the other fortified cities of Judah and now it's time for one final mop up and the Jews will be slaves in their own land. The scene is classic drama, though I wouldn't want to have been there. The Assyrian general starts making a speech about how Israel's ally of the time (Egypt) isn't going to help them, how their god is not going to help them anymore than the gods of all the other peoples' who Assyria has taken down. The Jewish king's servants ask the Assyrian to not talk so loud in Hebrew because the people on the city walls can understand. He says, "Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall – who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?" The general urges them to just give up now rather than be starved and then slaughtered. Clearly, Israel is in deep tapioca. I stopped my reading at the end of the Assyrian's ultimatum and reflected. I didn't remember precisely how this one turned out but I realized that I already knew that the next thing I read would give away the end of the story. There's a pattern to how these things go, you see. If Israel responds in an arrogant way, if they thumb their nose at the enemy and boast about how great they are and how they are going to kick the Assyrian's all the way back to Assyria like they're some red-faced gorilla from the World Wrestling Federation, then they're going to be in for it. The Lord is going to watch while they have visited upon them all the judgement for their sins that has been building up since the last time this happened. And with the Assyrians as the Lord's imprecise instrument, the judgement is going to get real nasty. But if Israel responds in that peculiar way that the Bible holds up as a model there is hope. Fortunately, in this case, King Hezekiah leads the nation in a response that pleases the Lord. He tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth, (definitely a good start), and sees that the other leading men do the same. Hezekiah prays with humility and desperation to the Lord, asking that He would deliver them. He sends word to the prophet Isaiah to find out what the Lord says. The Lord is pleased and Jerusalem is miraculously delivered without the Hebrews even having to leave the city. The Assyrians run back to Ninevah with their tails between their legs. Hezekiah had, from the Biblical point of view, the Right Response. Even though there was a scary enemy provoking him, he did not immediately respond to that enemy but instead took the situation to the Lord. This may seem like a strange thing to do to our modern secularized mind, after all shouldn't he be doing something more directly in response to the enemy surrounding his city? Shouldn't he be strategizing or giving a big pep rally to his people to keep them united? But his response does make sense from the point of view of someone who really believes in a powerful, good Divinity. A higher power who is just and holy but also wants the best for His people. Often in the scriptures, this Right Response is accompanied by a sincere searching for sin among the Lord's people. They examine their conscience and search through the community for injustice, for wrongs that should be righted. They really believe that letting sin and injustice stand is an invitation for retribution. Responding to a vicious attack by searching your own conscience for error may seem like a counter-intuitive thing to do, but it makes sense from the perspective of actual belief in a just God who runs an, ultimately, just and moral universe.

Sin in the Camp? This meditation left me feeling rather melancholy about much of what I've seen of my own people's response to the vicious attack of September 11th. It seems to me that there's been a lot of patting ourselves on the back about how great we are, how we represent freedom and goodness in the world and we just have to "smoke 'em out" and destroy these fools who dare think they can mess with the mighty United States. In short, a lot of what I'm hearing, especially from our political leaders, is the Wrong Response. There's hardly any humility that I can see and, especially at first, nearly a media black out on the whole issue of what sins and injustices we might have on our consciences. But imagine if we had the Right Response. Imagine real humility at this time, sackcloth and ashes, and searching for anything that our people has done to bring the Lord's wrath. I suspect with such an attitude through the land there would be a lot of discussion about the million Iraqi civilians that are dead because of the U.S. military. That might be an injustice worth talking about. I suspect there might be even more than this horrifying atrocity that we might re-examine in such a climate of humility. While my imagination is running wild, let's imagine that we not only identified some things that our government was doing that we weren't so proud of, but then really did something to change them. Imagine the response from the rest of the world to a United States that didn't just pay a bunch of lip service to justice and freedom but really tried to act consistently with those divine ideals. I don't know if it would end all terrorist attacks forever, but it certainly seems like it would be a much more constructive step than adding, now, the murder of Afghan civilians to our conscience. But, oh well, so much for my little thought experiment. It looks like pride doesn't just go before the fall. In our case, it seems to come after as well.

Stephen Carson

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