Five years ago, the first year I blogged, I wrote this piece about the Federal Building bombing in OKC on April 19, 1995. The importance of that date is still with us, so I’m updating and republishing these earlier thoughts.
Fifteen years ago today, I was standing in my office at Oklahoma Christian University when one of my colleagues rushed in and said, “A bomb just exploded downtown!” I thought, “That’s interesting,“ imagining something like a small letter bomb or something that blows up an office, set by some disgruntled employee.
Of course, within minutes the reports started coming of what was until 2001 the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in modern times. Now fifteen years later, the country has experienced worse, so it is easy to forget what we learned from Oklahoma City. Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Home-grown, flag-waving extremists are just as dangerous as foreign jihadists. Immediately following the bombing, reports of Arab-looking suspects were all over the news; the real bomber, however, was born in New York of Irish Catholic parents, voted “most promising computer programmer” at his high school, a decorated veteran of the first Gulf War, and an outspoken anti-tax, pro-gun, anti-government proponent. The current extreme political rhetoric and hyper-polarization frightens me!
- The use of war metaphors does not justify killing innocent people. McVeigh declared war on the federal government, so killing kindergarten children in the Murrah Building was for him an unhappy, but acceptable consequence of his military objective. Neither as individuals nor as countries should we be confused about the morality of killing innocent people for our own benefit.
- Average people are amazingly good and amazingly brave in a crisis. Immediately following the bombing, police and medical personnel rushed towards the bomb site. One of our church members was among the first police officers to arrive; he crawled into the rubble to pull out a baby covered in ash—but alive. Vendors brought bottled water, sandwiches, blankets, medical supplies; people of all sorts came to help however they could. Students at OC with just minimal training in first aid rushed to the scene, wanting to do something to help. I’m not sure I have ever experienced a greater sense of community.
- Everyone is damaged; the world is diminished by such acts of violence. Our friend the police officer was so traumatized by what he saw and experienced in the first hour after the bombing that he spent months –maybe longer—seeking help and attempting to recover. Not only the families of the victims, but the friends of the families of the victims, and the relief workers, and those who narrowly missed being victims just by “chance,” and the man who rented the delivery truck, and people who sell fertilizer, and everyone who works in a government building who goes to work every day, the whole community has been damaged. There are no armies, no federal agencies, no screening devices, nothing that can restore this world to wholeness. We can only forget–which we will with time.
But Christians must live in certain hope, participating with God to transform this world from being a bombed-out shell to a place where swords have been beaten into plowshares and lions lie down with lambs. What we can’t forget is that we belong to the Prince of Peace!