A young woman writes (from the Middle East) – in the wake of yesterday’s assassination of three police officers in Louisiana on top of the five last week in Dallas; the troubling shootings of seemingly innocent black detainees in Baton Rouge and Minnesota; the Orlando massacre; the hundreds killed or wounded by a Muslim terrorist in Nice; the failed coup against the increasingly Islamist regime in Turkey; and the ongoing jihadist attacks all over the Middle East – “The world’s going to Hell and no one in power is doing anything to stop it. It’s all like Middle Eastern Arab stuff. I’m getting desensitized to it all.”
That’s understandable. A lot of us in North America are experiencing similar emotional upheavals, followed by numbness. This week, as the Republican National Convention takes place, it’s easy to anticipate protests, clashes, and – you have to fear – violence and perhaps even deaths. And we should expect that all that will not end with the convention. Whoever wins in November, we will still have basically the same America as we have right now, and perhaps an even more troubled one.
Many Christians in times like these seek peace of mind in the knowledge that, though the world is ever mired in disorder and war, Jesus has told us “let not your heart be troubled” (Jn. 14:1), and “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)
This is divine wisdom itself speaking to us. Even the great ancient pagans recognized the importance of maintaining inner peace, whatever goes on outside us. The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who also happened to be a Roman emperor, once summed up their whole attitude: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
We strive for this, in our heart of hearts, to be sure. But there’s a way of understanding such wisdom that is not very wise at all. Because Christianity is not a feather pillow on which to rest your head. It’s a living belief in God’s love and His redemption of us from all our sins and sufferings – a confidence that spurs us to step out with that belief into the world. But note: Jesus warns us of sufferings and trials to come in the very place where He tells us that He has overcome the world.
It’s childish to think that, because we are staunch believers, we won’t or shouldn’t suffer great fear and trepidation. Jesus Himself, who in His human nature must have had the continual Beatific Vision of his oneness with the Father, sweats blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Passion. And He even asks the Father that, if possible, He remove that cup.
I understand why a lot of believers these days try to console themselves and maintain a certain peace of mind by reminding themselves of Christ’s ultimate triumph. I do so almost daily myself.
But given what we’re now facing, all over the world it seems, we need to seek more than consolation. We need the deep peace of soul to which God invites to keep our psyches from tipping over into madness, but even more because it will be impossible for us to act effectively unless we do more that simply react in blind fear.
In a time like this, when the public and private spheres – and the Church itself – seem riven, simultaneously, by all sorts of profoundly upsetting events and circumstances, we need our hearts to be troubled – in the right way. Unless we feel proper trepidation about how utterly disturbing things now are, we’ll never act with the right sense of urgency. Beginning with greater prayer and fasting, and continuing on to much more.
Just consider: as of yesterday, America has now entered a period in which any 911 call may mean not that people need protection or rescue from some threat. Any call may now mean that someone in our society has decided that he can assassinate the very people who – with a few exceptions – honorably put their lives on the line for us.
Truth telling, fearless truth telling, will be necessary for us, going forward. For instance, it’s quite true – as a recent Harvard recent study demonstrates – that American blacks are hassled by police more often than whites. And this kind of constant humiliation gives black people a deep-seated sense of unfairness and racism. But the same study has shown that blacks are less likely than whites to be the victims of police shootings.
Police departments, to be sure, need to be even more vigorous than they already are at weeding out bad-apples and hotheads. One of the tragedies about Dallas is that there had not been a single fatality owing to police shooting in 2016, yet Dallas officers paid the price for police misconduct elsewhere.
Worse, whole mythologies are being spun on the basis of events that never happened. Black Lives Matter still chants “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Yet it’s been proven beyond all possible dispute, however, that Michael Brown never said any such thing when he was shot and killed – while charging a police officer who he had already attacked.
Facts like these or cool reasoning will not do much in the short term about any of the large problems we now face: race, militant Islam, or our palpable lack of trust in our institutions and in one another. When people are in the kind of angry or fearful moods we’re seeing now, it will take time, patience, wisdom, and no little truth telling until real discussion can take place.
We who care about America and the world need to allow ourselves to feel how disturbing a time we’re living in. And then to act like followers of a God who came into the world to save the world. It’s not enough to say God’s in His Heaven and it will all work out. Serious questions have been put to us. We had better start to work out, in fear and trembling, serious answers.