658425040I doubt any reader of this column would ever consider becoming a suicide bomber. Killing as many people as you can while killing yourself seems so far removed from the spirit of Him who said: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b NRSV) Because the act of suicide terrorism is so abhorrent to most of us, we have little insight into the psychology of suicide bombers. I am therefore grateful to Bruce Hoffman for his article “The Logic of Suicide Terrorism” in the June 2003 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. One paragraph in that article helps us understand a little better, the mindset of the bombers as they approach their killing deaths.

“After decades of struggle the Palestinians are convinced that they have finally discovered Israel’s Achilles’ heel. Ismail Haniya, another Hamas leader, was quoted in March of last year in the Washington Post as saying that Jews ‘love life more than any other people, and they prefer not to die.” In contrast, suicide terrorists are often said to have gone to their deaths smiling. An Israeli policeman told me, ‘A suicide bomber goes on a bus and finds himself face-to-face with victims and he smiles and he activates his bomb — but we learned that only by asking people afterwards who survived.’ This is what is known in the Shia Islamic tradition as the bassamat al-farah, or ‘smile of joy’—prompted by one’s impending martyrdom. It is just as prevalent among Sunni terrorists.” (44)

Hoffman’s article reminded me that there is a theology that under girds the practice of suicide terrorism. It is not just the desperate act of impoverished people. Indeed Hoffman reminds us that many of the suicide bombers were middle classed and educated.

No, suicide bombers take their own life believing that they are striking a blow for the true god. And that in the moment of glorious detonation, they are transported to paradise. Hence they smile just before they die. Talk about your applied theology.

Strange as it may seem there may just be a lesson here for followers of Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” NRSV

It is worthwhile to remember that all followers of Jesus too are to die. No, we are not to literally take our own lives. And definitely we are not to kill others through suicide. But we are asked to die to self, a life centred on oneself and not on Christ. We are asked to die daily. Daily we are to embrace our crosses and choose Christ.

The theology of embracing our crosses daily doesn’t seem to be much in vogue. Instead the church often takes its cue from the world and defines the Christian life primarily in terms of self-actualization. “Be all that you can be” in Christ.

Now I believe this to be true, that indeed, it is only in Christ that we find our true destiny and embark on a journey of eternal life and fullness of life. It’s just that we are too quick to forget that this side of heaven, that journey of life includes death.

Paul had no illusions about this paradox. In 2Corinthians 3:10 he tells us he was “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies.” NRSV

It seems then that we can learn something from suicide bombers. As we inhabit a moment in time we look at the next moment and decisively choose to die, to die to self, to die to sin, to die to the flesh. With a smile we choose afresh the King, His Kingdom and His righteousness. And we do this moment by moment, day by day.

Of course there is a wide gulf between walking in the Spirit, and suicide bombing. The suicide bomber chooses death and finds death for himself and for others. The disciple chooses death to self and finds life for himself and for others.

However I am certain that choosing to die is always hard. And that includes dying to self. The suicide bomber may be dying based on wrong theology. We claim to know the truth. But are we dying daily? Am I?

Your brother, SooInn Tan