Jesus wept (Luke 19:41). Tears rolled down the face of God for Jerusalem, and today God weeps for New York. Deity was there at Ground Zero. And we, too, are called to that place to participate in the sufferings of God. Where there is the slaughter of innocents and hurt of such magnitude, our first ministry is to bind up wounds and thereby keep company with Christ. And to reach out in compassion as well to Arabs, whether they are Muslims, Christians or followers of other faiths. They and the other peoples of the Middle East and South Asia had no part in this atrocity and also suffer from unreasoning hate.
The UCC understands the call to minister to the neighbor in need. The outpouring of prayer and care has been overwhelming, moved by the love of God. But do we also know what to do with the wrath of God? One of our great UCC theologians of an earlier era was not so sure. H. Richard Niebuhr indicted liberal Protestantism for teaching "a God without wrath who brings humans without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross."
"Judgment" here has to do with holding the perpetrators responsible for this atrocity. Their suicide bombing was not a passport to Paradise but a passage to the Great Judgment where they will answer for their sin before a righteous God. And their sponsors will give an account as well to the world's community of conscience gathering now to bring terrorism to justice.
And what of our own share in the judgment of God for an American hubris so graphically symbolized by the Babel-like proportions of our towers? Are we free of all guilt of the horror that happened? What is it about us that evokes the hate of so many of the world's poor? Dare we listen to Jeremiah's thunderbolts as well as Jesus' weeping?
We must learn to put together both the tough and the tender love of God. We get some help from yet other forebears who had to work out a Christian response to the terrorists of their day.
In 1941 the Reformed theologian Karl Barth wrote "A Letter to Great Britain from Switzerland" as bombs were falling on British cities. He reminded Christians there of Good Friday, but also of Easter morning when God's definitive answer to the world's crucifiers was resurrection (Col. 2:15). That victory assures the coming of the final reign of God where every flaw shall be mended and absolute justice done.
Reinhold Niebuhr, another UCC giant of that earlier day, also has some counsel for us. Like Jeremiah, he was unsparing in his criticism of his nation's arrogance. He called for penitence for our sins and urged the making of peace as our controlling vision. But he also pressed home the distinction that had to be made between tyranny and democracy, and the need to defend the legacy of freedom and justice for all from the perils of the hour.
Our challenge in a UCC that (rightly so) prides itself on being a "Just Peace Church" is to deepen the meaning of that self-definition. No peace is worth having that does not bring the guilty to justice; thus our mandate to "resist the powers of evil." We do so with penitence and a passion for peace, confident of God's presence in both trial and rejoicing and the coming of that Realm which has no end.
What counts most is the Word about who God is and what God does, more than preoccupation with who we are in our justice-doing and peace-making. "Unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city the guard keeps watch in vain" (Psalm 127:1).
The Rev. Gabriel Fackre, former professor of theology at Andover-Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass., is a founding member of the Confessing Christ conversation in the UCC, found on the web at www.geocities.com/confessingchrist.