Herald Journal Columns
April 28, 2003
Pastor's Column

A look at true shock and awe - that Christ died for us

By Rev. Sherri Sandoz, Bethel Lutheran Church, Lester Prairie

Shock and awe.

These words intruded into my thoughts on Ash Wednesday, and I have spent my entire Lenten journey wrestling with them.

I admit to being put off by the US military's use of these words to describe the bombing campaign that began the war with Iraq.

Not shock so much, since obviously the stunning effect of explosives is part of the process of defeating an enemy. Those not killed by the blast are demoralized by its shocking force.

But awe is something else.

Awe is basically a religious term. It combines feelings of reverence with affection or even adoration. Awe is mostly a positive experience ­ part worship and part wonder.

It is the awareness that flows from finding ourselves in the presence of a power that transcends this world. It is what we feel while standing in the presence of a creative, nurturing, loving force. It evokes in us a startling awareness of our fortunate place in the universe.

The deadly force that fell from the sky over Baghdad was entirely of this world. It was neither life giving nor life affirming. And, however necessary the onslaught may have been, its effect inspired dread and fear, not awe.

Whoever thought those bombs would inspire awe in the Iraqi people either grossly misunderstood the meaning of the word, or greatly overestimated the power of violence to evoke wonder.

Overestimating what violence can accomplish is a real problem. Our culture regularly endows violence with a sort of sacred status.

Walter Wink, in his important book Engaging the Powers, argues at length that western culture is deeply committed to what he calls the myth of redemptive violence.

The basic idea is this: violence, if applied appropriately and with the right motives, has the power to bring about redemption. Wink argues that historical evidence seems to support this belief in the short term, but in the long term, violence is incapable of bringing an end to evil for it is evil itself.

There is, of course, a notable incident of redemptive violence. Christians believe that God revealed something essential about himself by means of an act of violence.

The violence, however, was not committed by God against His enemies, but was inflicted upon God by humankind in the crucifixion.

This past Easter Sunday, Christians around the world remembered this event in the life of God and celebrated the truly awe-inspiring aftermath. For after the "shock" of the crucifixion, God demonstrated his life affirming power in the resurrection.

In this amazing show of redemptive power, Christians assert that God has defeated even death ­ a fairly awe-inspiring notion. More than inspiring hope in us for an afterlife, resurrection is also about the defeat of death in the midst of life.

This Easter season, as Christians reflect on the original shock and awe campaign, in which death is defeated rather than inflicted, they can remember that the hope of resurrection means freedom.

The defeat of death in the midst of life frees them to love their neighbor and enemy, share bread with the hungry, and forgive those who trespass against them.

Now that's awe-inspiring.

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