by permission of the author,
[OCT. 20, 2001] The recent terrorist attacks on America have traumatized our people and our nation. As we reflect on the tragedy of the many innocent people who perished, our nation has turned to God for comfort. In the multiple church services and spiritual expressions as well as the many unselfish and even heroic acts of service that followed the crisis, we have seen Americaís greatness.
I am reminded of what Alexis de Tocqueville said as he observed America in the 1830s: "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard the pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." The primary source of the greatness of our country is its rich, religious heritage that is based on the principles and promises of Godís Word.
Throughout our history the faith of Americans has influenced the way we live and work and relate to one another. And, as a result of that faith God has truly blessed our nation. In recent years acknowledgement of Americaís religious heritage has been removed from the public square and it has also become less of a force in our individual lives. Certainly, we get busy and at times our faith and our commitment to Godís Word have wavered. However, as actions of the past few weeks have demonstrated, we are still a nation of believers. If we will seek God, He will use these horrible circumstances to refocus our commitment, minister to our needs and heal our land.
In the following comments, I have tried to identify five primary needs of people in the midst of tragedy. I have also included a liberal dosage of Scripture to support each of these five needs. As you come to terms with these painful events yourself or as you try to console others, hopefully one or more of the points will prove helpful.
1. Expression and perspective (emotional-spiritual)
First, everyone needs to have the opportunity to express themselves in one of two ways:
a. Emotionally ó God created us as emotional beings, and it is natural for us to express ourselves in that manner. As a matter of fact, the more we keep our emotions inside when something horrible occurs to us, the more it is likely to create psychological and physical problems later on in life. Some people express themselves by crying. Others express themselves through action, and still others express themselves through controlled and righteous indignation.
In the right context, all of these are appropriate because they are all means of expression used by our Savior. For example, when Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He knew the future and the outcome. Yet, in John 11 we are told that He was deeply moved and troubled or angered and He wept. Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus was much better off with God, He was troubled or angered by what sin and death did to man. Jesus wept with compassion that moved Him into action.
Why have so many people shed tears? Why are we angered? Why do we feel the need to help and move into action? Why are there literally thousands of people in volunteer lines in New York City waiting to help? Itís because we are made in the image of God, and we have a desire and need to express ourselves emotionally as God would.
b. Spiritually ó It never ceases to amaze me how people are able to dig down deep at a time like this, and when they do, the only thing that provides solace is spiritual expression. All over America we saw religious services of people desiring to express their hearts to a graceful and compassionate God. We have reminded each other of Godís promises, and we have prayed fervently in our homes, churches, schools and places of work. On television, the radio and even in the streets we have lifted our voices as a sweet fragrance to the Lord.
In reality, thatís the only way we can find direction and help for our souls. I find it both encouraging and distressing Ö encouraging because we havenít gotten so far away from God as a nation that we donít know how to turn to Him in times of trouble Ö distressing because we donít do it nearly as often as we should. God created us as spiritual beings, and as Augustine said, we find no rest until our rest is found in Him.
Once we begin to express ourselves both emotionally and spiritually, we are also better able to gain perspective on the tragedy. We are reminded that God is much bigger than terrorist attacks or any other tragedy. He is well able to protect us and confound the plans of our enemies. As we look to Him in prayer, we can be sure that He hears us and pours out His grace upon us because He loves us dearly. The circumstances no longer seem to overwhelm us because when Godís promises and our seeking and expression intersect we are strengthened. Godís grace is sufficient and in our weakness His power to sustain us is clear. True, it is humbling to be brought to our knees by evil enemies who seek to devour us. And yet, as we humble ourselves before our Mighty and Awesome God, our perspective changes and God enables us to stand firm. We are reminded of this very point in what Peter and Isaiah both said:
I Peter 5:6-10 ó Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Isaiah 41:10-13 ó So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
II Chronicles 7:14 ó If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2. Comfort and peace
As we turn to God, it is often to find some sense of meaning and reassurance in the midst of chaos. In finding that meaning, we also find a sense of comfort and peace. Our hearts and, yes, our souls are distressed at these evil and unnatural acts. We cannot imagine why anyone would hijack sophisticated aircraft and deliberately fly them into targets, knowingly murdering thousands of innocent people. How do we understand these acts of evil apart from understanding that they are created and designed by their father, the devil? In looking to God for peace and comfort, we are acknowledging that this is contrary to His nature.
Of course, some will ask, "If God is all powerful, why didnít He stop this atrocity?" But in many ways, thatís really the wrong question. God clearly loves us and desires for us to love Him. But He wants our love to come from our free choice, not something that is manipulated and controlled by Him. Thatís why He created us as free moral agents with the ability to choose to do good or evil. In order for us to love God freely without His manipulation, He also had to allow us to reject Him freely. Clearly, these men were anarchists whose well-documented sins of immorality and murder have violated even their own Islamic religion that forbids such things. For example, suicide and murder are strictly forbidden in the Koran. And, Muhammad himself said, "If people do good to you, do good to them, and if they mistreat you, still refrain from being unjust." These extremists freely chose to do evil, and the real question is why. The answer is ó they were deceived by the lie of sin and evil that says, "I can be a sovereign and make my own decisions and be happier apart from God." It is the same lie that deceived Adam and Eve and the same lie that deceives every man or woman who chooses to live contrary to Godís Word. Sometimes the evil that comes from such a choice is so great that it affects innocent people. The simple fact is that evil occurs in the hearts of those who are willing to be servants of its author, the devil. Scripture and history have both clearly demonstrated that Satan destroys but God creates, so itís not difficult to trace the source of these destructive acts.
No doubt, when tragedy like this occurs, God is grieved. We donít really comprehend the significance of spiritual warfare, but we do know that God promised to be with us in the midst of it. We can rest assured that for those who have made the free choice to love God, He will reward us and He will make things right. Today He weeps with us, just as Jesus wept when His disciples were saddened over the death of Lazarus Ö but one day He will rejoice with us. In these acts we understand better the contrast of good and evil and, as evil surrounds us, we can look to the Father to shelter us and our loved ones from its effects. Our desire is for God and His Word to reassure us that one day everything will be made right and that these people have not died in vain. Clearly Scripture tells us (Ephesians 6:12) that ultimately this struggle is not a human struggle. It is a spiritual battle of powers and principalities that are beyond our human understanding. Yet, knowing that can also be a source of comfort and peace because Scripture tell us that God has already overcome these evil forces and will one day make things right. In addition to Jesus Himself, both the psalmist and the Apostle Paul expressed these thoughts clearly.
John 16:32-34 ó I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Philippians 4:6-7 ó Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Psalms 71:20-21 ó Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.
Psalms 119:49-50 ó Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
II Corinthians 1:3-5 ó Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
3. Reflection, repentance, renewal and readiness
At times like these, we are also quite naturally moved to reflect on our lives. What if we were on one of those planes or in one of the towers, and what if we suddenly walked into eternity to meet our Creator? How would we give account for the stewardship of our lives? Would God say that our priorities were rightly ordered? As we answer these questions honestly, it is quite natural to want to make changes in our priorities. If we listen for Godís still small voice, we are quite likely to feel some sense of conviction. If we are driven to change by what we hear, it can mark an important turning point in our walk with God. Repentance requires a humble spirit and agreement with God that our priorities and our actions are not aligned with His Word and His will. As we are willing to acknowledge this fact in certain areas of our lives and confess it before God, a renewed sense of spiritual connectedness with Him becomes apparent. Finally, as we reflect, repent and renew our hearts and minds through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are made ready for the continuing spiritual battle that we no doubt will face.
II Peter 3:9 ó The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
II Corinthians 4:16-18 ó Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal
II Corinthians 8:11 ó Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.
Ephesians 6:11-13 ó For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
4. Justice and retribution
When a terrible injustice like this occurs and innocent people are murdered, our hearts cry out for justice. Is it right to hunt down and bring to justice the perpetrators? Is it appropriate to strike back and even go to war if necessary? In the fourth century, Augustine proposed the concept of just war, and that concept has guided our democracy throughout our history in national defense and in world affairs. According to this concept there are several criteria for a just war:
Clearly Augustineís model appears to be prevalent in the actions of our countryís leaders. We are measuring our steps, but we are justified in seeking quick and decisive retribution. In fact, there is a collective angst among our citizens that is a mixture of sadness, anger and the need for retribution. Our hearts cry out for somebody to right these wrongs Ö for some power to bring these evildoers to justice. Scripture tells us in Isaiah that God loves justice. I believe He loves justice because injustice is contrary to what He intended for the universe. Thatís why God clearly one day will set things right.
It is very difficult to understand an atheist having any sense of moral outrage for acts like these because the atheist does not believe in good or evil. We simply exist in a universe that occurred by chance and continues by chance. Survival of the fittest and the moral relativism that it creates lead the atheist to say simply that while the circumstances may be unfortunate for those people who perished, it is part of the natural course.
This postmodern moral relativism that permeates so much of what we read and hear runs quite contrary to the sense of moral outrage and desire for justice that have been so apparent in Americans over the past few days. As we struggle together to make sense of this, our moral outrage and our natural desire for justice have emerged in powerful ways. God gave us that sense of justice, and Godís Word talks about that justice. Even though we may not see justice served in this lifetime, we are encouraged because we know that some time, some day in the future, these evildoers must give account for their actions and God Himself will make all things right. As Scripture tells us in Hebrews 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." No matter how much injustice we may suffer, we know, as Isaiah said, that God loves justice and He will make it come to pass.
Isaiah 61 (the Lord loves justice) ó The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion ó to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs. "For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed." I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
Isaiah 30:18 ó Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
Finally, despite the turmoil and angst that we have experienced, we are not without hope. It is encouraging to see America turn to its strong Judeo-Christian heritage in the midst of these trying times. Prayer services abound, newscasters openly quote Scripture and talk about finding peace in Christ, and individual acts of bravery have been nothing short of incredible. Through it all God has provided. The mere fact that little more than 6,000 people have perished, while an incredible tragedy, is also incredibly miraculous. Consider that on any given day more than 50,000 people work in and visit the World Trade Center. My son, who lives in New York City and was in Manhattan at the time of the attack, shared with me that there are lines of thousands of people waiting to volunteer. At least four brave American men gave their lives in attempting to thwart the hijackers on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Clearly that plane was targeting Washington, D.C., and there is no way to calculate how many lives were saved as a result of their bravery. Then there are the hundreds of ironworkers and firemen and police officers who have worked countless hours knowing that many of their peers have already perished. And in a manner we have not seen in decades, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have lined up behind the president, and America is speaking with one unified voice.
Yes, in the midst of this trouble and turmoil, we see a hopeful future in America as men and women express their unselfish service to and love for one another and their country. Our family has felt that love when in the course of about eight hours we received well over 100 phone calls from friends and family members expressing their concern and prayers for our son, Dan. Though Satan meant these circumstances for evil, God is clearly turning them around and using them for good. We are hopeful because our hope is not in vain. We hope in a Savior who is a rock, a Savior who conquered not only acts of evil and destruction but also death itself. And, because of this we can be confident that through our faith in Him He is more than able to guard that which we have entrusted to Him and deliver us safely to be with Him forever. His Word reminds us of that fact over and over again.
Romans 5:3-5 ó Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Psalm 25:4-6 ó Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:20-22 ó May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.
Psalm 33:19-21 ó We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
Psalm 33:21-23 ó May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.
Psalm 37:8-10 ó For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
Psalm 43:4-6 ó Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Isaiah 40:30-32 ó But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Jeremiah 29:10-12 ó For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Lamentations 3:24-26 ó The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.
Romans 15:3-5 ó For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
2 Corinthians 1:9-11 ó He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,
Hebrews 6:18-20 ó We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
[Leonard J. Moisan, president of The Covenant Group]
(Scripture excerpts quoted from NIV)
[OCT. 27, 2001] The San Jose United Methodist Womenís bazaar and turkey supper will be Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the church. The bazaar opens at 3:30 p.m., and the supper starts at 4:30. The bazaar includes cookbooks, baked goods, homemade candy, woven rugs, crafts, woven placemats and woven table runners. Donations are accepted. Carryouts will be available.
[OCT. 27, 2001] The Lincoln Church of Christ helps sponsor a television program on WHOI television (Channel 19) in Peoria. "In Search for the Lordís Way," with Mack Lyon, airs every Sunday morning at 7:30.
For information about the program, call the church office at (217) 735-1130 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
[OCT. 23, 2001] Overcomers in Christ ó help for those who have been incarcerated and those who struggle with an addiction ó meets every Tuesday evening at 7 at Lincoln Bible Church, 2316 N. Kickapoo. Call 735-4641 for more information.