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Norway, Terror, and Forgiveness: A Decade after 9/11

And while there is an understandable amount of anger—some are even calling for the revival of the death penalty—more seem to be concerned that Norway continue to be a beacon of democracy and liberalism. In familiar post-9/11 terms, they do not want to allow the terrorists to win by changing the nation into something unrecognizable. A widely-reported and tweeted response from one of the survivors, interviewed on CNN: "If one man can show this much hate, imagine how much love we can show together."

Some in the U.S. would regard this failure to pursue hatred as the height of insanity. For those who are seized by fear, any possibility of preventing further attacks might be worth considering. After our own attacks—perpetrated by suicide bombers from whom we had, presumably, nothing further to worry, if planned by Osama bin Laden and others overseas—we contracted. As Jane Mayer has noted in her wonderful and horrifying book The Dark Side, Vice President Dick Cheney had been practicing for doomsday for decades as a public servant, and after the 2001 attacks on Washington and New York, he "saw the terrorist threat in such catastrophic terms that his end, saving America from possible extinction, justified virtually any means."

But the power of love, naïve as it seems, may be the only way forward. Although our own response was military, judicial, punitive, and repressive, all we seem to have to show for our own post-attack ledger sheet is some dead terrorists, trillions of dollars expended, and our own nation changed—in some ways—into something unrecognizable.

And terror, as is its way, is still alive and well.

If I could give one piece of advice to those grieving in Norway, it would be to take on the monumental task of forgiveness. I wouldn't ask them to set aside justice; if Anders Behring Breivik is responsible for these heinous crimes, he deserves the full weight of punishment. But like the nameless Norwegian girl who saw a better way forward, love can conquer hate, and it does so not through violence, but through forgiveness, and forgiveness can only come from those who have already been profoundly hurt.

Martin Luther King wrote in Strength to Love that "the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some torturous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression." It seems patently unfair and unjust that those who have already suffered should be asked to take on the challenging act of forgiveness.

But it is clear that hatred goes nowhere, fixes nothing, and leads only to more hatred. "The only right way," as John Calvin wrote in Institutes of Christian Religion, "is the way of love." (IX.7.5)

Next week, we'll consider what people believe they know about 9/11, how they got their information, and how being informed—or un-informed—affects our own desire to achieve justice, face fear, and forgive our enemies. Until then, may God grant peace to the victims of this attack and to the people of Norway, and may God grant us all the power to forgive.

7/27/2011 4:00:00 AM