The View From Above, Part 1
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Understanding the Times
When I first heard that the World Trade Center was on fire and had apparently been hit by an act of terrorism, I shrugged my shoulders. I thought of the bombing of this same complex of buildings back in 1993, which to me had been a kind of "non-event." Yes, it was an act of lawlessness. But the injuries were quite limited, and it seemed that the terrorists had clearly failed in their objectives. So on Tuesday morning, I was in no hurry to get to a TV set - I had some phone calls to make.
I walked downstairs about half an hour later and was shocked by what I saw. First of all, the image of both buildings ablaze numbed me. It was clear that many people would die or were in the process of dying. Then I saw the videotape of the second plane plunging into the south tower, and my heart wrenched within me. Shortly afterwards, the news cut to the Pentagon. It was initially difficult to grasp the degree of damage there, but it soon became clear what had happened in our nation's capital was also devastating. Stories began to come in describing the possibility of other planes in the air being hijacked or crashing.
And then the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. South Manhattan looked like a war zone. Clearly, thousands were dead. It seemed that the Pearl Harbor of our generation had arrived. The national will - and our national humility - was about to be tested. We were in a national crisis - indeed, we were at war but against some unseen enemy.
1 Chronicles 11 and 12 record the names of the warriors who swept David into power as he assumed the throne of Israel. Name after name of great soldiers and great bands of fighting men are listed. Buried in this list - this "Hall of Fame" of ancient warriors- is one clan known as "the men of Issachar." There were two hundred chiefs in this extended family, and a remarkable statement is made about them. The Bible states that the men of Issachar ". . . understood the times and knew what Israel should do" ().
Like the men of Issachar, we also live in the midst of a great battle for the throne of world domination. Will Islamic Fundamentalism rule our times? Will creeping secularism take the throne of our world? Or will the basis of true liberty rule in our age--Biblical worldview and Biblical faith?
I believe God's will for Kempsville Presbyterian Church (KPC) is that we be like these ancient men of Issachar. I believe God desires that we become men-and women-and youth-who are both warriors for the Son of David-Jesus Christ-and who grasp the events of these past several days through a larger perspective than the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
To that end, I want to speak to a number of related issues surrounding these terrorist attacks from the perspective of Scripture. Is God speaking to America? If so, what is He saying? If we understand our times, as the men of Issachar did, then we become equipped as modern spiritual warriors. Make no mistake about it - people are shaken. America is asking questions. Certainly, this is the time for the Church to be ready to respond both in prayer and deeds of mercy, but also with solid truth drawn from God's Word. We've heard from the news anchors, now let's listen to God's Word and get "The View from Above."
Does God Care?
In the face of all this death some will ask, "Does God even care?" The Bible tells us God cares deeply. We are told time and again that God is "compassionate and gracious" (). When Jesus came to the graveside of His friend Lazarus, we are told with simple eloquence, "Jesus wept" ( ). God's heart is moved. He enters into our pain and loss. I sensed this in deeply personal terms during my brother's death. I could not control the unraveling of his health any more than I could stop the airplanes from flying into those buildings. Yet, I found great comfort in the very personal sense of God's compassionate Presence. God was there. He understood my pain. In some very profound sense, the Almighty grieved with me.
The Bible not only tells us God cares, it tells us He cares for all (). He does not care more for me and my losses than He does for the losses of any of these families. When we see videotape of a young woman searching frantically for her husband amidst the rubble of New York City, God grieves with her.
This is why we pray for those who are suffering loss at this time. God has already revealed that His heart is bent toward those who grieve. Therefore, when we pray for those who are in pain, we can be assured we are not asking God to do something against His Nature. Second Corinthians 1 makes it clear that He is "the God of all comfort" (). Yet as we pray, we should pray for more than God's comforting Presence. We should most especially pray that those who grieve would know to turn to God and that they would accept His tender mercies.
I'd like to share with you a quote from J.R. Miller, which speaks to the reality of grief and God's comfort and which also reminds us that we must personally accept God's care for our souls . . .
"The happiest, sweetest, tenderest homes are not those where there has been no sorrow, but those which have been overshadowed with grief, and where Christ's comfort was accepted. The very memory of sorrow is a gentle benediction that broods ever over the household, like the silence that comes after prayer. There is a blessing sent from God in every burden of sorrow."
And so let us pray. And let us also affirm to those around us that God's heart is moved deeply by the tears of our nation. He is compassionate and gracious. But we must personally accept His comfort.
Life is Precious . . . Even Sacred
One of the mind-boggling realities of terrorism is that there seems to be no regard for human life. We are stunned by the callous disregard for suffering we see in the face of the terrorist. The events of this week force a troubling question upon our souls, "Why do we react so strongly when people die, while others seem so unconcerned about taking life?" The answer is that we intuitively grasp that life is precious . . . even sacred.
Generally, Americans have this deep conviction as a kind of holdover from our nation's earlier days. When founded, our forefathers held a Scriptural view of the world. Thus, they believed that life was sacred because the Bible teaches this very thing (). Yet, the terrorists involved seemed to spill blood so willingly. What we see is their worldview in action. They do not view life as precious or sacred.
I cannot think of a greater departure of viewpoints. Even though our culture has drifted quite a distance from our Biblical foundations, we still hold certain truths as "self-evident." I suppose my point is that not everyone thinks these truths are self-evident. Clearly, there are those who have no regard for human life. We believe as we do because we have been deeply influenced by the Bible. Even those Americans who don't believe in the God of the Bible are still heirs to a great culture that values human life deeply because it first valued the Scriptures deeply.
In the face of an increasingly cruel world, Christians must affirm that life is sacred. We do so today as we mourn the deaths of this past Tuesday. And we also affirm that life is sacred every time we prohibit the abortion of a baby, stand in the way of a Jack Kevorkian, or adopt children and thus rescue them from overseas inhumanity. In this sense, our grief is very good. It is an internal barometer, which speaks to us of the sacred value of life. When it comes to the carnage we have seen this last week, there seem to be no Americans among us who are not pro-life.1
1[As painful as it is to say, we must acknowledge that we Americans (and too many Christians) have been hypocritical when it comes to the sacred value of life. We are shocked by the carnage we have seen, yet it is miniscule in comparison to the horror of abortion in our nation. If we affirm that the life in those airplanes and buildings was precious and had a divine right to life, then to be consistent we must also affirm that life in the womb is precious and also has a divine right to life. We are grieved at the loss of life. May God give us a similar grief over the 40+ million aborted babies. Life is life. We can no more choose who gets to live and die in the abortion clinics than the terrorists get to choose who lives and dies in the skies over America.]
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