I join those who have said that last Tuesday's tragic events are made even more painful for those who knew one or more of the victims. As sickened as I was by the unfolding nightmare, I was profoundly more disturbed upon receiving the news that my friend Barbara Olson was among the lost.
I don't claim to have known Barbara well, but I knew her well enough to call her a friend. We met in conversations about our respective books, both published by Regnery. Though we weren't close, Barbara was gracious enough to spend several selfless hours on the phone giving me advice as a first-time author. That advice proved to be invaluable.
Following the book, we remained in contact infrequently, exchanging ideas and encouragement from time to time. Barbara was always exceedingly kind, engaged, committed to ideas she believed in and full of positive energy. When I heard that she was aboard Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, my stomachache turned to heartache.
I was gratified that Fox News televised the Saturday memorial service in Barbara's honor. I watched as many Washington dignitaries and others filed into the church. The eulogies by Justice Clarence Thomas, and Judges Bork and Luttig were moving and comforting.
Father Franklyn McAfee delivered a captivating sermon. Shortly after, I became aware that I wasn't the only one touched by the Father's remarks. Fox News anchors Brit Hume and Tony Snow were obviously moved as well. They discussed various aspects of the message throughout the day Saturday and again on Fox News Sunday.
Brit Hume seemed to be particularly taken by the Father's attribution of Tuesday's deeds to Satan himself. They speculated as to whether this tragedy would cause a resurrection of traditional values in this nation. The commentary from the Fox duo and their colleagues was fascinating. The fact that they were willing to talk about the subject on national TV was inspiring.
After deciding to comment on Father McAfee's words, I was pleased to find the transcript of his sermon on one of my favorite Web sites, OpinionJournal.com. Now, I wouldn't have to rely solely on my memory.
The Father said that in the madness we observed Tuesday "with our own eyes" we saw "the face of evil." In the context of life, evil is the absence of being; it is nothingness. Incidentally, my own pastor made the same point this past weekend when he noted that "evil" spelled backwards is "live." To Father McAfee, Pastor Ron Watts and all of us, evil represents the absence of life: death. That's what we witnessed Tuesday.
But Father McAfee admonished us not to dismiss evil as something. "Evil is someone, Satan." Satan, he said, has been described as "he in whom there is no love." He is "absolute hate. Darkness. Nothing."
Regardless of whether you believe in the reality of Satan (I used not to), you must not miss the point that evil is not an impersonal force. It cannot proceed from an inanimate object. Only personal beings have the capacity for good and evil. As Dr. Ravi Zacharias said, "Evil is always personal, and the one who acts wickedly is responsible."
Also implicit is the notion that good and evil must be comprehended in terms of moral absolutes. Evil is not some nebulous, relative concept. It is real. You and I don't circumscribe what is moral. God already has. Thus, according to the Apostle Paul, we can't excuse ourselves from immoral behavior on the basis of ignorance "since the requirements of the law are written on [our] hearts, [our] consciences also bearing witness."
Father McAfee made many other important points, but, for me, his closing theme trumped everything he had said before and left us with an uplifting message of hope grounded in our knowledge of the transcendent power of life.
"We are people of life. And no terrorist, no matter how powerful, can take that away." Don't you see, in the scheme of an infinite existence, temporal death is swallowed by eternal life. No one can rob us of God's ultimate gift.
How fitting that Father McAfee ended his sermon with the Apostle Paul's taunt to the forces of evil. "Oh, death, where is your victory? Oh, death, where is your sting?"