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Atonement by Bomb?

r_suicide_bomber1.jpgSometimes, stories couldn’t hit you any harder than if someone punched you in the solar plexus. That’s the way I felt when I read this:

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian mother of two small children, who killed four Israelis by blowing herself up at a border crossing, carried out the suicide bombing to atone for having committed adultery…Raiyshi left her 18-month-old daughter, Doha, and her 3-year-old son, Obedia, and blew herself up at the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, killing three soldiers and a private Israeli security guard. The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot first reported that the woman was compelled to carry out the attack as atonement for betraying her husband with another man. (WT, 1-20-04 )

I cannot describe the infinite sadness that rolled in on my heart at learning of this tragedy. Had someone told me that this woman was deranged, or that she blew herself up over revenge, hatred, sacrifice or even a barbarous brand of politics, I would have shaken my head and turned the page. In our post-9/11 world, we have come to expect such things. Her motive, however, was none of these. She was attempting to erase the guilt of sin by eradicating herself.

Raiyshi’s religion forced her to admit her sin, but gave her no Savior to confess. When she sinned—-and we must not dismiss the gravity of adultery—-she did not meet with the message of grace. There was no rugged tree planted at the end of her wrongdoing. Instead, she felt anguish and despair. Her only answer was to inflict pain and suffering upon herself, and end her life in an act of savagery. Few incidents in my recent memory have so contrasted the magnificence of Calvary with the horrors of sin. Raiyshi’s suicide should provoke us to much thought.

Can you imagine the sequence of events that led up to this bombing? First, the woman was confronted by her accusers. There must have been a flood of tears, fits of grief and loud wailings, but no one backed off. The inescapable question now became what she would do to atone for her sin. After awhile, someone suggested a suicide bombing. Everyone approved. The experts at terrorism came with their devices and outfitted her. As they strapped the bomb onto her, they must have told her that since she was going to die for her sin anyway, maybe God would have mercy on her if she if she killed a few of their hated enemies along with her. It was grim, sadistic and cold. And this was the best they could do for her!

For those of us schooled in the concepts of grace and love, these proceedings seem twisted and warped. And yet, I wonder how much we piously intone the marvels of grace ourselves, and then proceed to strap on bombs of a different kind…bombs just as deadly as those of explosives and shrapnel? Constructed from shards of guilt, clouds of shame, destructive agents of bitterness and biting words of condemnation, these bombs wipe out individuals, families and entire congregations. Many times our unforgiving attitudes effectively kill people who have sinned.

Often, however, it is the guilty parties themselves who experience such profound remorse that they become their own executioners. They convince themselves that they deserve to die, or at least, to suffer. Spin-offs from such reasoning are numerous. Some sink into depression. Some commit suicide. Others throw themselves with abandon into lives of sin, thinking that they may as well make a total mess of their lives. Some sabotage their own successes. They feel hollow, cheap, phony and hypocritical. “I don’t deserve God’s grace” they continually groan from deep within.

How many times have we heard the message thundered from our pulpits, sung from our choir risers or methodically taught in our weekly bible studies? “You cannot pay for your own sins!” “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8. And we raise our hands to rejoice over the thought. But the only reality we may feel as we leave our hallowed sanctuaries on Sunday is the shame that creeps back into our consciousness on Monday.

A critical gap exists between humbly accepting the atoning power of Christ’s blood and the desperate acknowledgement of our sin. Far too many people vacillate between the two positions. They are fully aware of their sins and the shedding of sinless blood to wash the guilt away, but they cannot forgive themselves for committing the sins in the first place. Actually, it all comes down to faith. It takes faith to accept God’s grace.

Did anyone ever tell Raiyshi that bombs cannot atone for sin? I think not. But, neither can self-destructive behavior compensate for sins committed in the life of a believer. Only the blood of Jesus takes away sin. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…” Titus 3:5. No, self-righteousness will not atone for sin. Nor can unrighteousness. God wants each of us to put our absolute faith in the blood of Jesus alone, and leave it there…forever.

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