I admit to being a bit offended by the U.S. military's use of the words "shock and awe" to describe the bombing campaign which began the war with Iraq. Not shock so much, since obviously the stunning effect of explosives is part of the process of defeating an enemy. The ones who are not killed by the blast are demoralized by its shocking force.
But awe is something else. Awe is basically a religious term. It combines feelings of reverence with affection or even adoration. Awe is mostly a positive experience. It is part worship and part wonder. Awe is the awareness that comes when we find ourselves in the presence of a power that transcends this world. This power is primarily a creative force, a nurturing and loving force. Being in the presence of this life affirming, life giving force evokes in us a startling awareness of our fortunate place in the universe.
The deadly force that fell from the sky over Baghdad was entirely of this world. It was neither life giving nor life affirming. And, however necessary the onslaught may have been, its effect inspired dread and fear, not awe. Whoever thought those bombs would inspire awe in the Iraqi people either grossly misunderstood the meaning of the word, or greatly overestimated the power of violence to evoke wonder.
In fact, overestimating what violence can accomplish is a real problem. Our culture regularly endows violence with a sort of sacred status. Walter Wink, in his important book "Engaging the Powers," argues that western culture is deeply committed to what he calls the myth of redemptive violence.
The basic idea is this: violence, if applied appropriately and with the right motives, has the power to bring about redemption. Unfortunately, Wink argues, even though historical evidence seems to support this belief in the short term, in the long term, violence is incapable of bringing an end to evil for it is evil itself.
On Easter Sunday, Christians around the world remember this event in the life of God, and celebrate the truly awe-inspiring aftermath. For after the "shock" of the crucifixion, God demonstrated his life affirming power in the resurrection.
In this amazing show of redemptive power, Christians assert that God has defeated death--a fairly awe-inspiring notion. The significance goes beyond hope for the afterlife; resurrection is also about the defeat of death in the midst of life.
This Easter, as Christians reflect on the original shock and awe campaign--in which death is defeated rather than inflicted--they can remember that the hope of resurrection means freedom. The defeat of death in the midst of life frees them to love their neighbor and enemy, share bread with the hungry, and forgive those who trespass against them.
Now that's awe inspiring.