78 years ago today, at 7:48 AM, the Japanese Imperial Navy conducted a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack was meant to cripple the U.S. Navy, and it nearly did, sinking The USS Arizona, capsizing the USS Okalahoma and damaging the six other battleships in the U.S. Pacific fleet. 21 ships in total were lost or damaged. 2,335 military personnel were killed, and 68 civilians. Another 1,143 military personnel and 103 civilians were wounded. Japan declared war against the US later that day. President Roosevelt called it “a date that would live in infamy.” It was the worst attack on the U.S. until September 11, 2001, nearly 60 years later.
These attacks defined generations. Pearl Harbor shook the US out of its neutrality, and plunged them into World War II. Since 9-11, the U.S. has been in a state of perpetual war. This past spring the class of 2019 graduated from high school in a nation that has known no peace. And despite our efforts, terrorism and war are not on the decline.
Of course, this doesn’t affect most of us, most of the time. These days, our military takes out enemy targets in relative comfort with a precision drone strike. And civilians. Donald Trump said on the campaign trail, “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” The war on terror has transformed to a war on children. And earlier this year, Trump revoked the Drone Strike Civilian Casualty Report. Once a tragic outcome of war, civilian casualties is increasingly our strategy, with little, or no accountability.
Isaiah’s Messianic oracle in Isaiah 11 gave a vivid depiction of eschatological peace—a peace which passes comprehension:
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.Isaiah 11:6-10, NRSV
This is quite the menagerie! A wolf lying down with a lamb, a leopard with a goat kid, a lion with a calf and fatling. A bear forgoes a nice ribeye to graze with the cattle and a little child plays with his hand in a snake hole.
Lets be clear, if you put wolves together with lambs, leopards with goats, lions and bears with cattle, I’m reporting you for animal abuse. If your child is left unsupervised in a snake pit, I’m calling child protective services. Predators kill. It is their natural instinct. If we allow that these images are metaphors for oppressors and their victims, this imagery is equally discomforting. In a #metoo and #churchtoo era, can you imagine women and child victims, cheerfully hanging out with their victimizer? It strains our morality. We want the predator to be destroyed!
But Isaiah’s hopeful vision describes a world where the victimizers are victimizers no more. The vulnerable, the beatdown, the down-and-out, the oppressed, the manipulated, the young and easily dominated, will be with the powerful, and they will not fear for their lives. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. No more war, no more fear, no more destruction.
And no more victims. The timid lamb and the young goat kid stumbling on skinny legs will be transformed into confident creatures, standing shoulder to shoulder with wolves, and lions, leopards and bears. The fatling, and calf will roar, the ox will bear its teeth. The weak will be made strong and the strong will not misuse their strength .
We are in violent times, and I fear that being an American puts us more in the predator column than the prey column, though clearly these are semipermeable categories. We hurt and are hurt, we kill and are killed. Our Advent Hope is that we are ever closer to the day when we shall be transformed. We will no longer be victims. We will no longer victimize. We will no longer be killed and no longer will we kill. We will all be gathered together by our King of peace.