Afghanistan and A Rebirth of Gratitude

What an avoidable humanitarian disaster might teach us about our own lack of thankfulness

The images from Kabul are devastating. Humans desperately clinging to aircraft headed toward the United States, clinging, hopelessly, for a chance to escape what is sure to be brutal treatment by the Taliban. I’ve been filled with a mixture of rage and grief as we all should be. I’m not a foreign policy expert and you probably aren’t either, but it doesn’t take a degree in international affairs to understand that America’s pullout of Afghanistan is a giant fail. It’s a fail in that it projects American weakness. It’s a fail in that it demonstrates the incompetence of our planning. But mostly it’s a fail for the people who have to live at the end of our decision-making: the men, women, and children who will be consigned to death because, for some reason, America had to rush this troop withdrawal.

There is an important and healthy debate about our role in the world and specifically about our role in a place like Afghanistan. I personally agree with experts like David French and Paul Miller and Condoleeza Rice that we could have maintained a small army in that part of the world, both to ensure stability, to give young Afghans time to grow, to allow the little girls who went to school to continue to go to school and not be Taliban sex slaves, to ensure we had enough of a presence so as to discourage the terrorist networks from building up and creating another 9/11. But I sympathize with those who feel that 20 years is a long, long time to be in one part of the world. Though our casualties were dramatically reduced in the last several years, many argue that we spent too much blood and treasure there, too many young American men and women. I understand that. It’s a complicated issue. I get that we are worn out and tired and that we need to focus on our own country.

Still, regardless of where you land, you have to agree that the withdrawal of troops is disastrous. Perhaps 15,000 Americans are trapped and we seem to be at the mercy of the Taliban to allow safe passage back to America. And then of thousands of Afghans, who fought for their country, who fought for our country in helping us defeat the terrorists, and who translated and drove and served our troops are now at risk of being slaughtered by the Taliban. What’s more, so many Christian humanitarian workers from countries around the world, so many churches and aid groups are in danger of death.

Seeing these images—the desperate mothers throwing their babies over the razor wire wall at the Kabul airport, the young men clinging to the C-17 aircraft, the young girls begging American soldiers to rescue them from the Taliban men who will subjugate them as wives and sex slaves—makes you weep. It makes you feel helpless. it makes you cry out with rage at the indifference of politicians.

But it should also make us feel grateful. We’ve had a conversation in this country for the last few years, at times healthy, at times unhealthy, about reckoning with our own national sins. There is quite a bit to reckon with. Yet, there are people in faraway countries who risk everything to come here, to taste our liberty. Thousands approach our borders every day. Others beg desperately in refugee camps. Some can only cling to faint and impossible dreams, locked as they are in servitude in Chinese labor camps or North Korean prisons.

We assume that the imperfect privileges we have—prosperity, freedom, rule of law—are shared by everyone around the world. But they are not. I talked to my kids about this today. I told them of the desperate mothers and forgotten children and told them how thankful they should be for a stable home and an education and the freedom to worship every single week at church, without fear of reprisal. I told them that kids their age around the world may not eat tonight, will be separated from their parents and that many will take their final breaths.

Our country is far from perfect. America is not even close to Heaven. And yet America is pretty good. So good, people are dying to find refuge on our shores. So good we increasingly seem to want to keep this goodness to ourselves. So good we have the time to argue about whether Carrie Underwood should have liked someone’s tweet.

We are not grateful for this goodness. We fill our social media timelines with complaints, the happy diversion of the privileged. There has been so much talk in recent years about Christians loving their country too much and I wonder if we’ve gotten it wrong. I wonder if we love it at all.

Perhaps seeing the anguish over the desperate plight of the helpless Afghans might renew in us some national gratitude for the undeserved riches we so mindlessly enjoy. For Christians, this is not really a choice. Of all people, we should be marked by thankfulness instead of being catechized by complaints. This then spills out into open-handedness and generosity.

Maybe we’ll get a fresh opportunity to demonstrate this, as Afghans who helped us fight the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are resettled in our communities. Maybe we’ll look at our blessings as gifts to be stewarded and not squandered, opportunities to use our resources to advance the gospel and help the most vulnerable.

photo credit: Afghanistan Matters