A legal tussle broke out recently when the civil liberties of an individual collided with the safety concerns of the larger community, edgy about terrorism.
You may have seen the headlines. For religious reasons a Florida woman, a Muslim, wore a veil for her driver's license photo, so only a narrow slit revealed her eyes. The state later revoked her license, claiming it would pose a risk to public safety. (No one is suggesting this particular woman is a would-be terrorist.) The woman's lawyer filed a suit, and the courts sided with the state. The veil has to go.
It's the latest in a long line of tussles as society struggles to find security in what feels like an insecure time. And to find it, if possible, without trampling too much on some of the freedoms we've all come to hold so dearly.
Viewed legally, it's a question of tradeoffs. Since 9/11, most people have accepted they'll get to pull fewer curtains across their private lives, a tolerable price for added security.
It has been called a balancing act, likened to the childhood pastime of two kids standing at the center of a teeter-totter and then edging away from one another until they miscalculate, lose their perfect balance, and - hopefully with laughter - tumble to the ground. Trouble is, people now wonder if the ground they're on is the next ground zero. The consequences of miscalculating the right balance are enormous.
Even if the legal, political, and military concerns inevitably involve tradeoffs, perhaps there's a higher vantage point, a spiritual one, that discloses a sure path to safety, to security, to a terror-free life. A path that doesn't tread across individual liberty.
Could there truly be such a vantage point? And such a path? Perhaps Isaiah found both long ago and revealed them in chapter 54 of the book that bears his name in the Bible. Consider this assurance given in God's voice: "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed.... In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee." His kindness is ever with us. His covenant of peace is always at hand. He establishes us in righteousness. That's a lot of divine care poured out on our behalf. And from God's point of view, that is enough to keep us safe from fear and free from terror.
But is that realistic? In a word, Yes. In fact, as people regularly and prayerfully climb toward the vantage point - it might be called the God's-eye view - they'll be glimpsing more of that path that doesn't trample individual freedoms but does lead to the safety and security of everyone.
Spiritual perception, in and of itself, does make a healing difference, does change circumstances for the better. Ultimately, it discloses humanity as already in the presence of the Divine, as perpetually in the realm He keeps safe. With every glimpse of this spiritual fact, the end of terrorism draws a bit closer.
And yet any appropriate curtain of privacy does not get drawn back. The genuine spiritual basis of civil liberties doesn't have to be a casualty - not when seen from that higher vantage point.
Everyone has an individual relationship with the Divine on which no one else can intrude. Interestingly, near the beginning of Isaiah 54 come these words: "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations." With those "curtains," was Isaiah making a case for certain civil liberties? Probably not. But in his allusion to that enlarged tent, perhaps there's a hint of the right sense of protection and privacy that don't have to be invaded.
The God that Isaiah knew, who is still at hand today, had and still has a limitless understanding, reaching from the smallest individual concern to the largest collective urgency. In His all-knowing, all-seeing presence, there is no shadowy locale in which to hatch an evil plot. There is safety and security and freedom from terror. As you and I realize these facts in prayer, they'll begin to take hold in daily life. Everyone will benefit.