The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
seeking their very lives. Psalm 37
Few people really talk about what a stroke of mad genius Bin Laden’s attack on New York’s Twin Towers really was. That he pulled it off—that such a horrific attack could be orchestrated at all—had to seem a miracle even to the Islamic militants so deathly sure of their own hate. How they pulled it off required a network of deception, and a target woefully ignorant of the extent of their hate. The fact is, they did it.
But 9/11 was a hideous work of art. The aim, after all, wasn’t simply to kill people. The
were a symbol of America’s
financial dominion, our own Babel. With two deftly aimed jet-liners, al-Qaeda utterly destroyed
the canvas of New York’s
skyline, washed out our brash financial—and cultural—self-confidence.
One of my memories of the immediate aftermath is a Sunday morning question, in church. A friend who was ushering that morning stopped me, looked into my eyes, and asked, passionately, “Why do they hate us?” He meant it, because he himself meant no harm to anyone in the
East, rarely even thought of them, I’m sure.
Which is not to say Mohammed Atta ever thought about the usher either, some factory worker in a small town of a state Atta could likely not have pronounced. But Atta and his ilk had deep-seeded feelings about my friend as an American, feelings that had historical roots far, far deeper than either I or my friend could imagine. Even though my friend didn’t understand why, he knew very well the honest-to-God truth—Atta and his martyred friends hated us with a passion.
In some ways, I can imagine the emotional truth of this line only if I try to put myself into the soul and psyche of some murderously righteous Islamic madman or woman, someone who sees the West—particularly America—as not only a challenge to Islamic culture (and surely it is), but sheer demonic horror. I don’t want to make Jihad-ists more pure than they are or were, but to them Western decadence looked—and still does to some—like the villainous predator David sees in this verse.
Human beings are marvelously complex, so I’m not about to say that the attitude David holds here creates murderous acts, but I dare say none of us could carry out a plan like the ISIL haters did if we didn’t feel, like David, that the enemy was at this moment plotting our deaths, as some very well might be.
Why do they hate us?—Atta and bin Laden and ISIL or ISIS? Because they believe we’re enemies, and if they don’t get us first, we’ll get them.
For me, a 21st century American, perhaps those very Jihad-ists are the only recognizable contemporary versions of the phenomenon David sings of in this verse: they’re lying in wait for us, seeking to kill us, seeking our very lives.
But I’m not David—and I’m not some mad Islamic fundamentalist.
And for that I’m thankful, thankful especially for Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who brought grace to amend the law, mercy to temper justice, and love, which is, quite simply “the greatest of these.”
Feels very strange to say it, but I will, once again, even though I remember well that God himself claimed David the man closest to his own divine heart: there are times when I’m just thrilled that I’m not the Poet King.
We have the Lord Jesus.