God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though the waters roar and foam,
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. (John 14:1)
Like many of you, I found myself glued to the television set Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, watching all hell break loose in the American northeast. Four quick and deadly terrorist attacks, resulting in a total body count we can only guess at until the dust, literally, settles around the violence.
As I write this, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan have imploded as a result of their two direct hits by airplanes. We have watched in horror as more than a dozen people trapped near the top of the towers jumped out of windows and fell to their deaths, trying to escape the smoke and flames inside. As many as three hundred New York City police officers and firefighters were buried along with civilians under a frightening tangle of glass, steel girders and bricks, trapped as they tried to rescue the innocent. They lay in ruins with countless people buried beneath the rubble. A 54-story building across the street is buckling, the windows popping out. Officials continue to clear the area, preparing for the eventuality of that building’s collapse.
The Pentagon, the very symbol of American freedom, power and security, took a direct hit and it is estimated that approximately 184 men and women have lost their lives there. It is now known that the President and Air Force One were targets, and likely still are.
As of this writing, the United States government is seriously considering making a formal declaration of war upon the perpetrators of these terrorist attacks, once their identity is assured.
What should the Christian response be?
Throughout the world, Christians talk of the need for forgiveness and healing. It is true that Christ talked a lot about forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” is a prominent line in the Lord’s Prayer. An unwillingness to forgive is not something our Lord lauded. In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew’s 18th chapter, Peter asked Christ how many times he must forgive a brother who offends him. Jesus’ answer showed that there is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive a brother, a fellow believer in Christ.
So we cannot treat the concept of forgiveness as of no import.
However, in order for there to be real forgiveness, there must be genuine remorse. The kinds of people who perpetrate these cowardly, violent, evil acts know exactly what they are doing and they neither seek our forgiveness nor want it. What they seek is our blood, to hurt the nation they like to call the Great Satan. Many terrorists who give their life for such a cause have deluded themselves into thinking that they are acting under direct orders from God and that they die martyrs in a Holy War. Their religious fervor, every ounce of their spiritual zeal, is directed only in the destruction of nations and people not their own. In their eyes they are not committing crimes, they are men of honor who work for God.
It is up to the American government to deal with these large-scale acts of terrorism upon American soil. It is not impossible for God to forgive these people, but we must leave that in God’s able hands.
As Christians, what can we do?
The very first thing we must do is pray. We need to pray number one for each one of the victims of this national tragedy, those who have died and those who are wounded. Pray for the fallen men and women of the police forces and fire departments who have lost their lives and for those scrambling through the rubble hoping to find one more survivor. Each victim had family and friends who need our prayers and our support, and we need to remember them.
Americans are showing up in huge numbers at the Red Cross, wanting to donate blood for the victims. Firefighters and emergency professionals are streaming into New York unbidden, because it’s “the right thing to do,” and we should pray for their safety and that much good will come from their heroic efforts. Pray for the doctors and nurses who are doing all they can to spare lives and help the wounded brought into their hospitals, or right there on the scene.
My own deepest concern, next to the welfare of any survivors and their families, is that of American Arabs, Muslims and others of Middle Eastern origins. My brothers and sisters in Christ, they had nothing to do with these brutal attacks on American freedom and security.
Concerning these innocent fellow citizens of North America, let us again remember the words of the Christ we claim to serve:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
And when an expert in the law asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment of all, Jesus had this to say:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
North American Palestinians and Muslims are our neighbors, not our sworn enemies.
The televised images we have seen of Palestinians dancing and laughing in the streets on the West Bank have of course infuriated us. Seeing others rejoice in the acts of mass murder committed on American soil fuels our righteous indignation. We want to retaliate. As a country, we will, but not against our own citizens who “look like one of them.”
We are not animals; we are not barbarians. Let us remember that in the midst of great heartbreak and tragedy.
We are Christians; our hope is always in the Lord. He has not forsaken us; He is not responsible for these acts of terror any more than any one of us are. I ask that we take this opportunity to reach out in love and friendship to our fellow citizens, and that we not turn on each other in this time of great need. How easy it would be to do find an easy target to lash out on in anger. Yet how hurtful to our fellow citizens and, more to the point, how displeasing such action would be to Jesus Christ, our King and Redeemer.
Let us not throw common sense away.
Along the streets, people are cheering on those involved in the search and rescue mission in Lower Manhattan. There are so many volunteers that some had to actually be turned away, asked to come back later, because there were so many people arriving that it was in danger of hampering the rescue operations. Every time the cameras pan across the horrible scene, people are seen bringing food and water to the rescue workers.
As the Twin Towers began to collapse, I watched hundreds of people running for their lives in a desperate attempt to escape almost certain peril. This was only natural, the flight or fight response kicking in. But then I saw scene after scene of men and women reaching back to pull others along with them, out of harm’s way. In most cases, you could tell that these people had never met one another, but they still took the time to help another American to a point of safety.
They destroyed some buildings and stole some lives, but the terrorists could not, and will not I pray, destroy the indomitable human spirit.
You ask where God is in such a tragedy?
God is there, with each and every victim of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. He is working even now through the hands and hearts of each rescue worker, doctor, nurse, paramedic, and volunteers struggling to help those still alive, or to recover those who are no longer with us. God is with us all in the midst of this tragedy, weeping with us at the tremendous loss of human life.
God is there with all of us, walking through the midst of the storm by our sides, for He is always with us.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you. (Isaiah 41:10)
As devastating as this blow to our people and our national security has been, we must not give up hope. Our hope is not in bricks and mortar, nor is it in weapons of great might and power – though they may be necessary to defend our national borders and security. Our hope, my brothers and sisters, is in the God who formed us in our mother’s bodies, and in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us turn to God now with prayers and hymns, and let us reach out to the wounded and to one another, remembering that the Bible assures us:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)