To run in the Boston Marathon is a delight. Each year, more than 27,000 runners who have qualified for the race come from around the world to run in what is commonly regarded as the world’s greatest distance running event. They have been doing so for a long time: this year’s race was the 117th Boston Marathon. For practical reasons, most marathons begin near daybreak and long stretches are run in silent isolation. The Boston Marathon is proudly run in the middle of the day, and between half a million and one million spectators cheer the runners in an almost solid wall of excitement and goodwill over the 26 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. It is a party atmosphere on a state holiday; for runners, an unforgettable thrill; for spectators, a chance to support the runners and to share with each other a day of innocent pleasure and tradition.
This year, two young men shattered the day’s joy by taking the lives of three people, one of them a child, and terribly injuring many more. They did so by placing bombs at a time and place not calculated to harm any of the government officials or other famous people who would have been present earlier in the day. Apparently, they thought it their duty to God to kill ordinary people, including children. We call such acts “terrorism” because they are designed to make us afraid, to make us realize that even the most innocent people engaged in the most innocent aspects of life are possible targets of malignant fanaticism.
I ran this year. I had finished more than an hour earlier, but had stopped for lunch at a restaurant across the street. The blasts hit just as I was leaving, only a few hundred yards away.
Should I be afraid?
The danger is real. Around the world, many more young men think it their duty to kill, and want only the opportunity. Despite the best efforts of those who try to protect us, no part of our society can be kept wholly safe from such reckless hate. So, when I run next year, as I intend to do, it may be that another attack will harm me rather than another, that my life will be taken or my body shattered so as to prevent me from ever running again.
I do not plan to be afraid.
Evil is present all around us. A drunk driver or a common thief may, on any day, end our life or brutally change it past healing. Beyond such dangers lies our own certain mortality. Security from injury and death does not exist. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon argues that the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death combine to make it our duty to do with all our might whatever our hand finds to do. Our only true security lies in God. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6).
There is surely a sense in which the murder of the innocent, because they are innocent, is as frightening as anything can be whose consequences lie in this world. But a Christian looks to the next world. Peter says that those around us (and especially those who would harm us) will think the Christian’s attitude in the face of threats to be very strange, and that we ought to be ready to give an answer when they ask our reasons. There are good reasons to give. Though suffering is real, it is “not worthy to be compared” with what God has in store for us (Rom. 8:18), and, like athletes focused solely on the prize, we know that “in all these things we more than win the victory through the one who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). As followers of Christ, the ultimate innocent one killed because of his innocence, “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated” (I Pet. 3:14).
Note: Dr. Jim Gardner, associate professor of philosophy, has taught at Freed-Hardeman since 2005. He holds degrees from both Harvard and Yale and lived in the Boston area for five years. He began running regularly in 2008 and completed his first marathon in Nashville in April 2010. He has run 18 marathons including two in Boston. In addition to running, he likes to climb mountains. “I love hiking, which led to my interest in climbing, and I love travel, which I combine with hiking, climbing and running, as well as viewing and photographing beautiful art and architecture for use in my Arts and Ideas class,” he said. He plans to run in the Boston Marathon next year.
Most recently, Gardner has completed the Comrades’ Marathon, run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, South Africa. Arguably the world’s greatest ultramarathon, it requires runners to complete its 56 miles in a single run. Gardner finished in approximately nine hours. Runners come from around the globe for the event begun in 1921 by World War I vet Vic Clapham.
Clapham wanted to begin a living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War. It has been run every year since, except for 1941-45.