America Under Attack?
We all watched in shock horror as two airliners flew directly into the World Trade Centre in New York, another into the Pentagon in Washington, and another into the ground in Pennsylvania. The latter almost only a footnote of failure in the shade of the three planes that succeeded in their mission. "Unbelievable" was probably the most common immediate reaction, and rightly enough, although no sin ought really be a complete surprise to the Christian. It was a terrible tragedy, an enormous criminal act. Let us pray, as no doubt we all have much already, for those who have lost loved ones and friends - and maybe lots of them in one fell swoop. And let us pray very much for Mr Bush and his advisors, that they would have wisdom beyond themselves that they may know how to react properly, yet not over-react.
But how are we to move from that stunned disbelief and deal with this thing in some way, to come to terms with it? Do we have a category for events like this, somewhere to put it in the mind's filing system by which we can say, "There, it's in its place. I can access it. I can pull it out and work on it. I can put it away again"? We do. We confess in Lord's Day 10 that God is almighty and ever present, and, in His providence, upholds with His hand heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that "all things … come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand, that without his will, they can neither move nor be moved." Yes, somehow (and don't ask me how, I'm not God; I don't have to understand, only believe) terrorists and the perpetrators of Nazi and Communist and Balkan holocausts operate under God's fatherly hand. (Look up the proof texts for Scriptural support and add Isaiah 10.)
People cannot believe someone can so callously take the lives of so many innocents. There have been worse crimes, although this one was particularly audacious and, I would suggest, highly symbolic. We do not downplay the guilt of the perpetrators, but we must look beyond just them. We do not wish to minimize the trauma of the survivors or the grief of the bereaved, including the whole nation of the United States. And whose heart does not feel for them? But if we are to understand it somewhat, we must see it from a wider perspective. The heinousness of any crime is to be measured according to the greatness of the offence to God, not the number of human beings affected. The greatest crime in history took the life of only one man, the only innocent man who ever lived (or at least, ever died. Adam lived innocent for a while but he never died innocent). Peter said of that in his Pentecost sermon, "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know - this man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death" (Acts 2:22f). Peter felt no obligation to excuse the Jews (or the Romans; their involvement is stated more explicitly in 4:27) because of God's sovereign over-ruling. So when they were "cut to the quick and cried out to Peter and the apostles, 'Brethren, what must we do?' he said to them,
The headlines screamed, "America Under Attack"; "Terror in America." But are those headlines adequate? Do they portray the truth? Was this event just an "attack," an act of "terror"? The prophet Amos says, "Is there calamity in the city and the Lord has not done it?" Jesus reiterated the point when he said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your heavenly Father." Jesus did not say "without your heavenly Father" knows; or "without your heavenly Father" sees; or "without your heavenly Father" permits. He simply said, "without your heavenly Father." It's an odd expression but we better give it all the meaning it is capable of bearing, in accordance with the rest of Scripture.
America Under Judgment?
We are commanded in Scripture to see God working in history - both in his mercy: "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:16f.); and in judgment: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). I have not yet seen a headline, "America Under Judgment." And if that is possibly how we should view it, that judgment did not begin with the collapse of the World Trade Centre last week. But maybe God underlined it in double bold last week. "In God we trust" proclaims the Statue of Liberty. But America has not trusted in God for very many years. America, like all the West, is a wicked nation. "We have all gone astray." But not just inadvertently gone astray. "We have turned every one to his own way." We have deliberately removed God's law as the basis of our nations' laws and replaced it with its opposite. We cannot slaughter innocents, let alone at the rate of 15,000 per year in this country and 1,000,000 per year in the US, with impunity. And I must confess that to see the very same congressmen who passed those sorts of laws sing "God bless America" was a bit hard to swallow. "God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Why, the Netherlands is so bare-faced it has the gall not only to legalise euthanasia, but to turn abortion into an export industry with a ship ready to go into business just outside Irish territorial waters - is that part of what world trade means?!
The Symbol of Materialism
Eugene Bingham in the Herald on Saturday, 15th September, began to come close when he said, "The World Trade Centre towered above New York, symbolising everything brash and confident about not only the US, but the West…. The terrorists had aimed their assault directly at the core values of Western capitalism. They could hardly have hit a more symbolic target." Amen. God is judging the West for its apostasy, for its spurning of his grace over 2,000 years of Christian history. That it should hit America in such magnitude is appropriate only insofar as America is currently the leader of the West; that it should hit the New York financial district, at the World Trade Centre underlines that. For is not every, but every, argumentation for any position on any subject discussed in political circles grounded on what its effect will be on the economy present or future? The old idol has not lost its shine for all its age and many of our other sins can be traced to the worship of mammon. It remains only to be said that we here in NZ are surely due the same for who has received more blessings from God than this country? "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4f.).
We weep with America. We weep with those who are bereaved and have suffered great loss. We pray for them. So we shall and so we should. But how often do our "eyes shed streams of water because they do not keep Thy law" (Psalm 119:136)? Or because the Son of God is trodden underfoot, because the blood of the covenant is regarded as unclean and the Spirit of grace insulted (Hebrews 10:29)?