Summary: September 11 and Paul’s prayer

Eph. 3:14-21

Steve Simala Grant, Sept. 15/16, 2001

We live in a crazy world – a world where hatred and violence exists, persists, and at times shocks us with the evil that some people can perpetrate on other people. We have seen pictures this week of planes full of people slamming into buildings full of even more people. We have heard of the guestimates of the number of human lives lost – of innocent men and women and children, people with families and loved ones, people with faces and feelings and futures. Suddenly ended, as the world watched on in horror. Those images of destruction will live on with us for the rest of our lives, and they bring to each of us profound emotions – sadness and heartache. Disbelief. Anger. Desires for revenge. Questions about how hatred that strong could commit an act that purely evil. Questions about where God was when this happened.

I personally was deeply saddened, and drawn to prayer. I felt shocked and angry. I prayed for the leaders, for the workers, for those suffering and those killed, and for their families. And to be truthful, I wanted to see revenge. To see those who perpetrated these cowardly acts of terrorism made to suffer as much as their victims had. And I could feel the hatred welling up inside me.

As I worked through my own feelings, the anger did not subside, but I came to realize that the hatred was wrong. The desire for revenge was wrong. I now desire justice, not vengeance. The difference is subtle, but extremely important – justice is reasoned, careful, dedicated to the establishing of truth and then ensuring that punishment that fits the crime is carried out. Vengeance is purely emotional and reactive, and lashes out at any potentially responsible person or group.

I confess to you my ignorance of the fine points of international politics, of the reasons (political or religious) that people are moved to such hatred of the US that they are driven to attack innocent American civilians as they go about their day. I’m sure they can make a case against the US, and obviously can do so persuasively enough that suicidal men believe it and are willing to act in such horrific ways. But what I am not ignorant of is the roots of evil and hatred that are behind such atrocities, the one we have witnessed this week and the others throughout history – the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Auschwitz, Cambodia, the crusades, the persecution of Christians by the Romans.

I debated and prayed about what passage of Scripture to look at this morning, and in consultation with the rest of the staff decided to remain in Ephesians, in our series, and see what God’s Word has to say to us and the world we live in.

And I didn’t need to stretch the passage to make it fit. It begins by picking up the thought Paul began in chapter 3 and completing it – the key phrase that connects the two is “for this reason.” And then Paul introduces his second prayer for His readers (the first being in 1:15-23).

He says “for this reason…” and then goes to prayer. One of the astounding things I heard repeatedly all week was a call to prayer – everyone from local aid workers to the president of the US asked people everywhere to pray. And everyone from normal folks like you and I all the way up to the leaders of many nations around the world responded by saying “our prayers are with you.” And regardless of the fact that this statement came from people with profoundly different religious and spiritual perspectives, the response was a spiritual one. The response was prayer.

And this makes complete sense to me – in the face of situations beyond our comprehension, we naturally turn our hopes to God. I have often wondered how people who claim to have no faith can possibly cope in times of loss, especially in times of personal loss. And yet the truth is that most people have some measure of faith, and it is times like this one that bring that out – that bring questions and hopes to the surface. And this gives us opportunity, as the ones who know the Hope personally, to capitalize on that interest and share what Jesus has done for us. It is times like this that raise difficult questions – “how could a loving God allow something like this to happen?”; and though these are extremely difficult questions to answer, it certainly provides us with an opportunity to share the faith that we have that this life is not all there is – that we have a hope for an eternity where this kind of evil and suffering will be no more. We have Jesus – the answer to a world in desperate need. In the face of something wherein we are powerless to respond, we turn instinctively to God who does have the ability to respond and somehow accomplish His will even through actions that are entirely evil.

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