Our Only Hope: Balancing Justice and Mercy
Words delivered at a September 12 Candle Lighting and Prayer Service for the Victims of the Day of Terror
With the war to be fought one between civilization and anarchy, our only hope lies in the balance we strike as we enter this uncertain and forbidding future. It rests in how well we balance justice and mercy, retribution and compassion, the might of weapons and the power of love. Our hope hinges on how effectively we unite a riven world against a common enemy. But it also requires that, singly and together, we answer to the challenge of maturity that will arise so quickly from the ashes of our shattered innocence. To do this we must not only gird our minds; we must also prepare our hearts. Above all else, this is a spiritual challenge, one that each one of us must meet. If before we could seemingly afford the luxury of relegating our spiritual lives to the occasional Sunday, today, facing a transfigured future, we must redirect our energies and spirits. In times like these, measured against the preparation of our souls, all lesser priorities lose their urgency.
The Chinese ideogram for crisis juxtaposes two word-pictures: danger and opportunity. Even as our grief today can be measured by our love, the danger we now face suggests a commensurate opportunity. In the theater, a crisis is not something that happens, thenceforth driving the events of the play. In Greek the word, crisis, means "decision." In the wake of this tragedy, it is the decisions we make that will shape our character and (to a degree) drive the plot our lives will follow.
If religion is our human response to being alive and having to die, the purpose of life is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for. Over the past two days, all of us have lived with a heightened sense of life's preciousness and fragility. We know how easily it could have been us right now for whom some dear one was about to light a candle. Blessedly, the same thing that makes us more attentive to death can also bring us to life. This saving opportunity matches the danger we have witnessed and now feel. And we are just entering the period of crisis.
The survivors in this city, every one of us, has been changed and will continue to be changed by the decisions we make. We can decide to be angry, vengeful, hateful, becoming like our enemies and poisoning the one well. We can also decide that we can't do anything-that the world is hopeless-and go back to our trivial pursuits as if tomorrow were no different than the day before yesterday. Or we can rise to the challenge and pledge our hearts to a higher calling. We can answer to the better angels of our nature and join in a shared struggle, not only against our foes-who are the world's foes-but also on behalf of our friends and neighbors. We can listen more attentively for the voice of God within us than ever before. We can heed its urgings with acts of kindness and deeds of love.