I was in Nairobi on September 11, 2001. My travels put me within a few months and sometimes just days at the sites of terrorist attacks. My work as a missionary among university students brought me to cities marked by terror in the past few decades, including Bali, Nairobi, Paris, Nice, New York, Tirana, London, and Mumbai.
On 9/11, my African colleagues prayed for Americans to forgive the terrorists. I must be honest; forgiveness was not my first impulse. As an American, my first thought was that this would significantly change our world, and that a protracted war to stop the spread of terror would commence that day. And I fully realize that my impulse comes from a Western Imperialist concept, Christendom. As a Christian, my response was not the same as my African friends. And it was not what the Early Christians in Rome would have had either.
Paul writes that “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). I have not understood how to see the message of God’s kingdom through weakness. I’m currently reading Neil Elliott’s scholarly book entitled, The Arrogance of Nations. Elliott points out how Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome was not so much about personal salvation, or the insufficiency of Jewish law to bring salvation. Instead, Paul challenges every authority and power on earth with an effective proclamation of an alternative lordship to Caesar. When he writes, “Jesus is Lord,” he is confronting those who claim to have all power. He writes, “For scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Rom. 9:17).
My head and my heart still struggle with the incongruity of a Christian faith that, by default, aligns with an imperialist power to put down evil aggression. I will continue working on reconciling this question. As a missionary, I join Paul in praying for more grace to comprehend God’s power and to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5).