This truly is a time for prayer. With so
much naive speculation about how the government of the United States
should have made some preemptive move to stop this, we need to remember
that such acts by suicidal terrorists cannot easily be prevented, not even
by revoking the Bill of Rights. Though such things as tighter airport
security may surely help, even extremely regimented states such as the
former Soviet Union and China have not been able to prevent all air
hijackings. This fact should give us pause, and move us prayerfully to
seek sober and wise responses. Terrorists may be insane, but they are
anything but stupid. How essential it is, then, that we buckle down to the
discipline of the chessboard, rather than let emotion lead us to make the
kind of foolish moves that they are calculatedly seeking to provoke.
Guerilla forces, particularly those that do not share a central command,
are very effective in waging war against civilized nations by means of
acts of terrorism. When those guerilla groups are influenced by demonic
religious ideas and are willing not only to die but to kill thousands of
innocent people in carrying out jihad because they have been taught that
this will bring them to a carnal paradise with beautiful houris, we face a
formidable foe indeed.
People raised in powerful, affluent nations, especially in times of peace,
do not comprehend terrorism, but terrorism is often the only means that an
occupied, oppressed people, lacking sophisticated matériel, has to use
against a militarily powerful, occupying force. History is replete with
examples of the psychological effectiveness of terrorism.
The Sicarii were ancient zealots who engaged in random
assassinations of Roman citizens and their collaborators in the streets
and markets of Roman occupied Palestina. The assassin carried a
short dagger, called a sicarius, which was hidden until the moment
to strike. These unpredictable acts were not ultimately effective in
driving out the Romans, but they did succeed in provoking a Roman response
that galvanized a massive uprising on the part of the occupied people.
The purpose of the terrorist is not always simply to cause the superior
force to lose its will to control the less powerful group; it is to
provoke the superior force into acts that provoke, in turn, a wider and
more intense rage on the part of the less powerful group against the
superior force. In other words, terrorist acts are often done to provoke
their enemies to act in such a way that the terrorists’ own people are
moved from complacency to radical involvement in their cause. We must pray
that the decision makers of the United States do not fall into that trap.
Among many Arab peoples in the Middle East, Israel is generally perceived
either as a satellite of the United States, or the United States is viewed
as being under substantial control of “Zionists.”
Because of their perception, the violence that has intensified in the wake
of Ariel Sharon’s campaign and subsequent election has profound
ramifications for the United States.
To many morally conservative Muslims, the United States is viewed as the
chief purveyor of global decadence through our entertainment industry—we
are the “Great
Industrialized World’s thirst for oil is seen as a major cause of
exploitation of native populations, and U. S. oil interests are seen as a
major reason why oppressive tyrants are still in power in certain
countries of the Middle East. Mindless rage leads people to believe that
terrorist acts are morally justified as the only effective way to wage
jihad against what they view as the enemies of God.
Now is not a time for self-righteous, mindless rage, in turn, against an
easily identifiable scapegoat: all Arab peoples; it is a time for soul
searching and a humble seeking of divine wisdom. Those who were behind
these horrific acts of terror must be effectively punished. We must pray
for the President of the United States to act with great wisdom. He must
refrain from acts of vengeance that simply satisfy a pressing, political
need; he needs to take action that is effective in bringing the
perpetrators to justice.
‘Now there were some
present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate
had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that
these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because
they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too
will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell
on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in
? I tell you, no! But unless you repent,
you too will all perish.”’ (Luke 13:1-5)
By Jesus’ response to the those who informed him of these deaths, it is
obvious that they had raised the issue of God’s judgment. These
folk thought that disasters, whether natural or caused by humans, are
simply the hand of God punishing people for their sins.
One does not have to believe in the God of the Bible in order to look at
troubles that way. The folk on the shores of
, seeing Paul having been bitten by a viper
said, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea,
Justice has not allowed him to live.” (Acts 28:4)
What does the Bible tell us about the hand of God in history? Do these
disasters simply happen, and God has nothing to do with them? Is history
ultimately meaningless with no connection between how we live and what
happens to us? Do we serve an impotent God?
Many people believe that God, for one reason or another, either does not
or cannot intervene in real time and space, or that his power is off-set
by the decisions of men and devils.
In the ancient world of
, the followers of Zoroaster were
profoundly dualistic. Zoroaster “apprehended Ahura Mazda as God, the one
eternal, uncreated Being, wholly good, wise, and beneficent; but
coexisting with him he saw another Being, the Evil Spirit, Angra Mainyu
(Pahlavi Ahrimanc), who was wholly evil, ignorant, and malign, likewise
uncreated, but doomed in the end to perish.” Freedman, David Noel, ed., The
Anchor Bible Dictionary, (
: Doubleday), 1992. (Sounds a bit like
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s instructions to Luke Skywalker about the Force with its
dark and light sides.)
God rebuts this Zoroastrian dualism to the Persian Emperor Cyrus in Isaiah
45. Note especially verses 6 and 7: “I am the LORD, and there is no
other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create
disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” All things that happen are
the unfolding of God’s divine purpose, both weal and woe.
Without addressing all of the many questions about the relationship of God’s
sovereignty to such things as humans as free moral agents, natural
phenomena, or the real power of Satan, we have to affirm that the terrible
events this past Tuesday did not happen outside of the sphere of God’s
sovereignty. The Prophet Amos asked: “When disaster comes to a city, has
not the LORD caused it?” (Amos 3:6)
Yet having affirmed that, we must immediately affirm the enigma of
history: “Then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what
goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man
cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot
really comprehend it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17)
We know that God is working in history, but figuring out how that happens
or what are his penultimate purposes is beyond our ability.
Ecclesiastes keeps us from glib commentaries on these horrors. It
underscores how foolish it was for Messrs. Falwell and Robertson to make
their facile remarks on national television about this being caused by the
gay community, abortionists, pornographers and the American Civil
Liberties Union. Not only does the enigma of history condemn such
comments, but they sound terribly self-righteous.
Jesus’ words about Pilate’s state sponsored terrorism cut the ground
out from under us when we are tempted to do that, because he tells us that
all these terrible things are signposts of the future judgment of God and
warns us to be ready for it. There is coming a time when fire will fall
from heaven, not on one city but all over this world.
The Black preacher in James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones
oh, sinner, Where will you stand, in that great day when God’s a-going
to rain down fire?”
September 11, 2001
, is not a time for finger pointing; it is
a time for kneeling before a sovereign God. It is not a time for
self-righteous pride; it is a time for self examination. For we may fare
no better on that day than the abortionist and pornographer. Indeed, we
may not fare better than those who did these atrocious deeds.
As a signpost of that Dreadful Day, it warns me that I am “Standing in
the need of prayer.”
“Not my brother, not my sister, But it’s me, O Lord, Standing in
the need of prayer.”
my neighbor, not a stranger, But it’s me, O Lord, Standing in the need
This fire from the sky is a divine summons to bring each of us in the
brokenness of repentance to the foot of the cross. And there is no more
secure place in all the world than that. It is to those who turn from
their sins and self-righteousness, that Jesus speaks words of security and
comfort: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill
the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body
in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will
fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very
hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth
more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31)
It is why we can join in singing Luther’s wonderful rendition of the
Forty-sixth Psalm, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
* Dies Irae is Latin and means “Day of
Wrath.” It is the title of
a medieval Latin hymn describing Judgment Day.
Dies irae, dies illasolvet saeclum
teste David cum Sybilla
Dies irae, dies illa
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando Judex est venturus
cuncta stricte discussurus.
(Day of wrath and doom impending,
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending
Heaven and earth in ashes ending
Day of wrath and doom impending
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from heaven the judge descendeth
On whose sentence all dependeth.)
Events such as September 11, 2001,
serve as signposts warning us of that dreadful Day to come when all
earthly pain and trouble will pale into insignificance compared to the
outpouring of the wrath of a holy God on those who have not turned from
their sins and cast themselves on his mercy in Jesus Christ.
As this old hymn reminds us, not only sacred Scripture, “David’s
word,” but even that of pagans, “with Sibyl’s blending,” point to
a future manifestation of justice and wrath.
This old hymn picks up on the truth recorded in
Revelation 20 about the books being opened where every thought, word and
deed is recorded and will be righteously and definitively judged.
God sends no one to hell arbitrarily; our own sins are the sole
basis of our sentence. “And
I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the
earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And
I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were
opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the
dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books,
according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it;
and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were
judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast
into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:11-14.)
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
quidquid latet apparebit,
nil inultum remanebit.
(Lo! the book
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge
his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.)
The only hope of anyone is God’s
mercy in Jesus Christ, because “whosoever was not found written in the
book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15.)
quod sum causa tuae viae;
ne me perdas illa die.
Quaerens me sedisti lassus,
redemisti crucem passus;
tantus labor non sit cassuc.
donum fac remissionis,
ante diem rationis.
Jesus, my salvation
Caused thy woundrous incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and wary thou has sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me,
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Judge, for sin’s pollution,
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.)
When we come to God through the
righteousness of Jesus Christ, we are assured that he will receive us and
forgive us all our sins.
“All that the Father giveth me
shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight:
for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God
without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the
prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ
unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For
all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified
freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom
God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to
declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through
the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:
that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by
the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith
without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:20-28.)