Thursday, July 14, 2005

Understanding the Suicide Bombers

It comes in The Return of the King, last book of J.R.R.Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Denethor, appointed to be the Steward of Gondor, despairs that his land will be overrun by enemies. More to the point, he fears that unfolding events will strip him of his power and that the rightful king will be enthroned. He's also convinced that his son is going to die. His world, the one he has counted on, is coming to an end and he can't take it.

And so, he decides to take his own life and that of his son. Gandalf, the wizard who looms so large in Tolkien's books, comes to stop Denethor's madness.
[Says Denethor:] "Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?"

"Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death," answered Gandalf. "And only the heathen kings, under the dominion of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair..."
We all can name people who have been so engulfed by depression that, no longer themselves, made the tragic decision to take their own lives.

But what do we say of those who, upset that the world does not conform to their particular interpretations of the will of God--interpretations not even shared by their fellow religionists--decide to take their own lives and those of the innocents who stand in police recruiting lines in Baghdad or sit on commuter trains in London?

Aren't these would-be kings who, "under the dominion of the Dark Power" of this world, slay themselves in that explosive coalescence of "pride and despair"?

In the Bible, there are two major suicides mentioned. One occurs in the Old Testament, the other in the New.

In the Old, King Saul orders his subordinate to run him through because, like the kings alluded to by Gandalf, with pride and despair, he refuses to face up to either his rebellion against God or his loss in battle.

In the New Testament, Jesus' betrayer, Judas, takes his own life.

Both Saul and Judas, it's said, "repent" for their sins, although the words used in the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek neither connote the genuine turning from sin and to God that is repentance. Theirs is the repentance of wounded pride, the ruefulness of the arrogant.

Except in cases of depression, suicide is always about pride and despair that the godlike status one desires for oneself has not come or the proud and desperate play for importance and appreciation in death that one despairs of receiving in life. It's an act of towering megalomania and self-aggrandizement. Not only do these proud, desperate people take their own lives, they presume to take the lives of others, in spite of the view of all the religions of Abraham that life is something that only God can give and take.

Through Jesus Christ, I've come to believe that "God is love," as the so-called apostle of love, John, writes. It's difficult for me to believe that this God of love could lead someone to come under the dominion of the Dark Power and in an act of "pride and despair" take their own lives and those of others.

I'm praying that God will transform the hearts of those considering giving into pride and despair, even as I pray for the protection of the innocents and support the efforts of legitimate governments--including our own--to end terrorism.

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