The recent tragedy and subsequent chatter about guns, immigration, and terrorism has filled the 24/7 news media with a flurry of words, opinions, and time-filling chatter. I watched an interview with five workers from a restaurant near the Boston Marathon bomb sites. They retold their experiences as the bombs exploded and how they had responded to the resulting carnage. They gave example after example of what seemed to be instinctive acts of compassion, protection and, frankly, what would be easy to call heroism. When the program's host asked these folks if they considered themselves heroes, they all responded with emphatic expressions of NO!
But one of these brave restaurant workers gave a response that caught my attention. He said, "We were at the wrong place at the wrong time, but we did the right thing." At the expense of parsing these simple words beyond their meaning, let me offer my initial thoughts as I listened to this concise observation.
Bad things do happen to people who are at the wrong place at the wrong time. This has always been true and the hyper violence that seems to be on the rise in our world will, unfortunately, continue to cross paths with innocent folks. What's most telling about our responses to these tragedies is that we seem to be surprised at these horrific tragedies, while living in a world where we increasingly value living life by our own rules.
The instinctive protection of the injured and the "run to the battle" response of countless courageous people give us a glimpse of the good that is yet resident in so many people. Call it the DNA of "Boston strong" or the unity of Americans when icons of American culture like Patriot's Day or the Boston Marathon are attacked: we did catch a glimpse of the "common good" that still remains in our nation.
The simple observation by the restaurant worker is the image that is enduring for me. We live in a world where really bad stuff is intruding into our lives in the places we never would have expected. We are taught the places to avoid after dark so we can escape trouble, but treasured safe places for community celebration are now being invaded by the bad guys. Frankly, that is scary and despite the best analysis of chattering elites, the observation of the ancient prophet is still true, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way" (Isa. 53:6a). The intrusion of evil into the celebration of the Boston Marathon is a story that has been repeating itself since the creation of humankind because we have turned "everyone to our own way." People simply live with the delusion that each person has the right to live life as if he or she were the only person of worth in this world.
While Isaiah's declaration about the nature of people is true, we must recognize the worth of human effort regardless of who performs these acts and for what reason. The tragedy of the Boston bombing is tempered by the incredible display of care that people expressed toward complete strangers. People simply felt compelled to assist in the face of terror that spread its carnage indiscriminately. While human nature has a natural default position toward self-definition, without reference to a Creator, the Creation account in Genesis is quite clear-we are made in the image of God. While scholars have reflected on the imago Dei for centuries, it certainly includes the fact that we should recognize the reflection of God's character in the human experience regardless of the way or by whom it enters into our experience. If the Apostles ventured into those initial missionary journeys with the expectation that a basic knowledge of "God" was generally known by the common experience of the people they addressed (Acts 14:17), then why should we be surprised that these restaurant workers did the right thing?
So there, I've done it. I have parsed that restaurant worker's simple observations way beyond what he probably meant it to say; but as a follower of Jesus, I must admit that I think we live in a world where we should not be surprised at humanity's creativity at evil, nor the simple goodness of folks who just do the right thing. That's where we live these days: not much different than in any previous era. I'm grateful that I can live with the promise of Isaiah that, while the world we live in will express its various forms of evil genius, there is an ultimate remedy, which a Redeemer God has already enacted to deal with the human dilemma.
"All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to His own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the inquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6b).
Byron D. Klaus, President