When I was nineteen years old I was not an expert decision maker.
I had some grasp of the consequences of my actions, sure; I thought a lot about the way things I did would have an impact on the course of my life from that point. A nineteen-year-old should have those faculties. But I was awfully impressionable, and I looked up to people whom I respected. My best friend and roommate at the time was fit, healthy, lithe, and could eat an entire box of Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels without so much as blinking. I looked to him for nutritional advice. I was enamored with Mark Driscoll’s red-faced preaching at the time and the strong picture of masculinity he painted (which, I realized, I was attracted to for very different reasons than wanting to be a “man’s man”). So I looked to him for theological advice. I fell in with the Wild at Heart obsession of the late 2000’s and went digging in my psyche to find my “father wound” and wound up hurting my dad terribly in the process. I believed the myth of “God’s perfect plan for your life” and wound up feeling spiritually abandoned because God never made that plan known in black and white.
I’ve had to learn the hard way that the leaders I wanted were not the leaders whom I needed.
So it makes sense that Dzhokar Tsarnaev, in the great grand identity crisis that is the ages 18-22, was looking to strong figures and narratives to give his life shape. Figures like his brother Tamerlan, whose ideology and forthrightness surely impacted him. Narratives like that of the dominance of extremist political ideologies that can transform worlds for good or for evil.
Figures and narratives, heroes and dreams–but somehow Dzhokar’s search went awry and those dreams turned to bombs. Could his story have turned out differently if he looked elsewhere to find those shaping influences? Certainly.
Dzhokar is responsible for his actions which, obviously, are reprehensible. He is a murderer. But we must also consider our roles in tragedies like this and ask the pointed questions of ourselves: how are we combating the narratives and ideologies that give rise to violence? How are we showing people a way to a better identity, one that is not turned inward in self interest but outward in love? How do we shape our lives to be a healing presence to those around us and draw them into the work of healing the world alongside us?
Christians know this (at least, I hope), because it’s one of the lynchpins of our understanding of reality: we realize that we are only able to work in healing because we ourselves have been healed. We ourselves have been raised with Christ, and therefore the Resurrection life is available to all: to the victims, to the families, and even (I believe) to Tamerlan and Dzhokar, two brothers who made a couple of hellacious decisions. Because Love wins in the end, and I believe Love will win the Tsarnaev brothers as he has won us all.
Let Dzhokar live with his bad decisions. Let him experience the grace of life and be given the chance to make amends for what he has done. No, he will never be able to bring back the victims–that is God’s task–but in the hands of God and the restorative justice of God’s people I believe Dzhokar can be a witness to God’s prodigal grace which is lavished upon us all.
Wilfred Owen reminds us:
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.