Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Christian Math of Life: A Reflection From the Westgate Attack from Someone Who Lived It in Their Head

This last week has had its normal busyness, travel, childcare, homework, and life in general. This in itself is usually enough. However, added to that this week has been an event a few hundred miles away which has stayed in my head and my heart as it unfolded. The attack by terrorists on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

It may be that it is close to us being within a day’s drive, it may be that for once I had to go through a rather long list of people to make sure that no one I knew was inside the mall when it happened. It may be that my wife and son spent quite a bit of time there only days before the attack started and that the pictures being shown, filled with blood and people stuck in a horrific situation were set against too familiar of a backdrop. Whatever the case may be I have spent the last few days constantly checking the news websites, trying to find it on TV if I was around one, and praying. Praying for those inside, for their families, and for a world where this is becoming more and more common.  And selfishly and honestly praying prayers of thanks that my family had left Nairobi a few days earlier and that I was not one of the people anxiously waiting on news of loved ones and their safety. 

As I have reflected on this drawn out attack and coverage on Westgate, my mind, while concerned with thoughts of international politics and how each country, whose citizens were affected, were going to respond, kept asking why? Not what the organization had to gain through this attack, but why would individuals follow through with something like this. The answer in my mind is incredibly simple in its scope…selfishness.

There is a theology of selfishness that runs throughout our faith as Christians that tries, not to justify, but to make sense of the fallen world we live in. It simply looks like this:

Sin comes from selfishness
Sin = death
Selfishness = death

And that was the horrible example that we saw unfold this week because we live in a world where the ideals of a handful is worth more than the lives of many. Because the cause of a few is placed above the very life of others, others usually characterized not by their shared humanity, but by their differences. It is a story that has unfolded a hundred times over in our world. When people decide that something is worth killing for they are putting their ideals or their desires or their gain over and above the lives and well being of others. And the result in the end is death, never more real in my life than this week.

As Romans 6:23 puts so simply, “The wages that sin pays are death…” This along with Romans 6:8 gives us a full picture, “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death…”

However, the pictures didn’t stop with just bloodshed and death this week. The newscast also showed pictures of the help of many from police that responded, to people who became instant neighbors in light of this tragedy, to those willing to risk their own lives to help others. A picture that still stands out in my mind is a Kenyan police officer running with an Asian baby cradled in his arms. The sight of people of different nations, races, and most likely religions coming together to help each other, sometimes at the risk of slowing down an escape from a building full of death, but unwilling to leave others behind. These images help complete the picture of the fullness of our theology and more importantly our hope for the world. Romans 6:23 finishes with “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The final gift is life and Romans 8:6 may put it even more appropriately, “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, the attitude that comes from the Sprit leads to life and peace.” 

Christ’s selflessness = salvation
Salvation = life
Selflessness = life

The selflessness of Christ leads to our salvation which leads to life. This week I was able to see that lived out in the flesh as people stopped, even at the sake of their own safety, to selflessly give the hope of life to others. As we continue to reflect on and process this week, and there are many more days ahead for the people involved in this tragedy, it is good to remember that when we put ourselves above others the only result that can be found is death. We have to consider this as the world will start to turn from mourning to words like justice and retaliation. We have to remember that our faith says the only hope of life for the world is a spiritual attitude, a selfless attitude that will lead to life and peace. That side was seen as well this week and I pray that the beauty of sacrifice seen this week will live long after the ugliness starts to fade, and influence us far more than the selfishness displayed this week by a few.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa

Lord, let us remember our commonality more than our differences, let us focus on the breath of life that you put into each person, and let us live our lives for each other and not for ourselves. In this way may the life that you intended for us be brought to reality here in this world, and the prayer that many of us pray each Sunday be made real in our lives. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing so personally, and for your insightful theological reflection.