"The Fullness of Christ's Mercy"

I don't like to borrow things wholesale from other blogs. Not without some significant commentary from myself to accompany it. However, as I have yet to share my own reactions about the death of Osama Bin Laden, I'd like to share with you something that, among all the things I've read online about this, has deeply affected me. It is a letter from a reader of Andrew Sullivan's The Dish regarding his response, as a 9/11 survivor, to the news of Bin Laden's death. The mix of raw human pathos combined with the profound Christian witness of the final line just needed to be shared. With apologies to Mr. Sullivan, here is the whole letter:

I am a World Trade Center survivor. I was on the 62nd floor of Tower One when the first plane struck and I was in the police command center in WTC 5 when WTC 2 collapsed on top of us. I am also a Catholic.

When I turned away from the Mets-Phillies game Sunday night to watch the President “announce” the news that everyone already seemed to know, I had no mixed emotions.

That son a bitch killed my friends, colleagues, fellow New Yorkers, fellow Americans, fellow human beings. Worse still, he inspired thousands, if not more, to take up a blind nihilism as their credo, ostensibly in the name of Allah, “the merciful, the compassionate”. All the pain he has brought to this world has not been reckoned and may not be reckoned in our lifetimes. I sat on my couch Sunday night and poured a large glass of Irish whiskey and toasted the death of the man who had tried to kill me. “Fuck you" I said out loud.

Then I went upstairs and looked in on my three sleeping children - my oldest born in 2002 - and I kissed them all. Then I settled in next to my wife - my beautiful wife, who will be married to me ten years tomorrow, and who is carrying our fourth child. She for many long hours thought her husband of five months was crushed to death in the towers. I put my hand upon her belly and I closed my eyes and I prayed that Osama bin Laden would know the fullness of Christ’s mercy.

For one of the best theological meditations on Christian forgiveness and the memory of wrongdoings let me recommend Miroslav Volf's The End of Memory.

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14 thoughts on “"The Fullness of Christ's Mercy"”

  1. There is a disarming honesty to this letter, but theologically I am troubled. I cannot coment without assuming a kind of theological high-ground which will dishonour victims and misrepresent the truth I seek to ununciate, but something in me is not satisfied by this.

  2. I think most if not all readers would empathise with the writer's pain and honest wrestling with God - I think it is our God-given humanity that allows us to do so. Perhaps this humanity is the highest price exacted by acts of violence. If we travel hopefully; if we really do believe ourselves to live in the best of all possible worlds, then we cannot build a Chinese wall between our loving Father and the horrors around us. Nor, ultimately, can we separate ourselves from our prayers.

    These are not shoes I have walked in. I offer no judgement on the writer's emotional reactions. The deepest challenge for me in his closing prayer is the conviction that, were I to offer one similar, God would wish to bring me to a place where I'd be prepared to cooperate in answering it.

  3. Unforgettable. This does sound so much like a psalm for 9/11!

    The piece strikes me as so stunningly faithful that--I'm truly sorry (and no doubt dense), Highanddry and Andrew, but I do not understand what is theologically problematic in it--is it the degree of the writer's grief and fury or the extent of his reconciling hope that is the trouble? Or is it that he uses bad words?

  4. Do I take the bait
    and contravene my better judgement to leave well alone..? In all seriousness, I
    really don't want this post to become the catalyst for a debate over something
    I'm not sure I can put my finger on. I am reading with interest the strong sense
    of connection and faithfulness others are finding in the letter. If anyone is
    dense in this instance, it is no doubt I.

  5. I expect we can look at this person's experience in many different ways and see many different things. I can only speak about what I saw in it.

    What struck me about it wasn't the theology. Mainly because the man isn't trying to do theology. He's sharing is own personal story about the messy, often obscene, journey toward forgiveness. Upon hearing of the death of someone he hated he expresses feelings akin to Psalm 137--not the high point of Scripture nor of this man's life, spiritually speaking--but that's the start, that's the beginning of forgiveness. Honesty. Honesty about our hate. And without that honesty forgiveness often becomes a sham, with people verbalizing forgiveness but, deep down, holding onto corrosive hate.

    But the Christian witness here, to my mind, is that when he lays his head on the pillow at the end of the night he doesn't end on the FU, the last thought isn't "Welcome to hell." The last thought, the final move here, is a prayer of forgiveness.

    And that's the Christian part. Why did he say that prayer at all if not for his faith? What pulled him to that final thought about Christ's mercy? That's the part that moved me. How this man's faith began pulling his hate in that direction. Because without faith I'm pretty sure the night ends on the FU and more whiskey drinking on the couch.

    Theologically speaking, is that enough? Is his man's journey finished? Of course not. But it's the overall spiritual trajectory of the story that drew me in. The journey from FU to a prayer for mercy. The raw human drama of a Christian trying to forgive someone they hate.

  6. I think there's always a kind of faith crisis when you're facing someone who either justifies the horrible things they've done, or blames you for deserving it.

  7. I like the duality that is in all of us that's illustrated in this letter. When he focuses on how he was wronged, hate swells up inside him and he toasts and gives a solid FU to bin laden. But as his focus shifts to his kids and his wife, love and hope takes over. A hope for their future that the goodness of Christ is capable of overcoming even the greatest evil. I hope so too.

  8. Perhaps this is simply a lesson in the "practice" of forgiveness. I'm sure Andrew has had to forgive this attrocity more than once. Its a process. But at the end of the day, as he lays his hand on his unborn child, Andrew remembers once more the mercy he himself was shown and in order to accept that grace he turns in full faith to Jesus and Jesus's supernatural Mercy in order to bestow it then onto his worst enemy. Andrew is a better man than I.

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