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WORLDVIEW: End of a tyrant, a moment for humility

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–When they finally caught up with him, the fearsome Butcher of Baghdad looked more like a bedraggled bum.

Pulled from the 6-by-8-foot “spider hole” where U.S. forces found him huddling in the dark, Saddam Hussein seemed bewildered, blinking in the light as if waking from a strange dream.

It was, in fact, a quarter-century nightmare for his countless victims — Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Kurds, Iraqis, Iranians, Kuwaitis. Iraq’s hundreds of killing fields and torture chambers will be excavated for years to come. The shroud of terror and despair Saddam cast over whole peoples will take much longer to remove from hearts and minds.

The reign of tyrants often ends pathetically. Some are dragged through the streets or torn to pieces by vengeful subjects. Others face quick execution by victorious military foes. Hitler and Stalin, two of Saddam’s heroes and role models, died while hunkered down in their compounds. Hitler committed suicide. Stalin, increasingly paranoid and in failing health, was allowed to die in bed — untreated and unmourned — by his own henchmen. He might have been poisoned.

Whether or not they admit it to themselves or others, tyrants know deep down that justice is coming. Like Macbeth and his scheming wife, they find that the blood on their hands will not wash away. Even grand Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Saddam’s ultimate hero, was tormented by dreams which only Daniel the prophet of God could interpret.

The king knew no peace, and had no kingdom, until he glorified God rather than himself: “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride,” he declared in the end (Daniel 4:37).

Whether Saddam will ever make such a declaration in this life remains to be seen. He reportedly expressed no remorse for his crimes in his first encounter with current Iraqi leaders. Like Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, he may turn his day in court into a TV showcase of self-justification. But if not in this life, he will acknowledge God’s sovereignty in the next, when all knees will bow — even Saddam’s.

Regardless of Saddam’s attitude in the days ahead, this is a moment for the victors to display humility — and not just for PR purposes in the Arab world.

Many love America and the democratic ideals it stands for. Many others hate the United States or question its motives. In a confused post-Cold War world, even some grudging allies see a benevolent American empire/police force as the only real hope for global freedom — or at least for the prevention of general chaos. Manifest Destiny, updated and politically corrected.

It’s far from clear if Americans themselves — always reluctant to embark on foreign adventures, always eager to come home — have the stomach for such a global project. Either way, it’s important to remember that all empires come to an end, even benevolent ones. Only God’s Kingdom is permanent. He uses kings and rulers, benevolent or cruel, for His purposes.

In a much earlier time, when God’s people were exiled in what is now Iraq, the prophet Isaiah said: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you, and nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3).

In the midst of the Israelites’ grim sojourn in imperial Babylon, God told Isaiah that a suffering servant — a humble King of Kings — was coming. The prophecy would be fulfilled centuries later when Christ was born in Bethlehem — even as another great empire ruled from Rome.

The world, and all its kings and kingdoms, await His return.
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board whose column appears twice each month in Baptist Press.

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  • Erich Bridges