This past week we learned what people are capable of…and we know why. The ultimate enemy is sin. As we try to recover from the shock of the most horrific terrorist attack in history, there’s a crying, desperate need to make some sense of what’s happened.
I want to emphasize that, while politically motivated, this is a spiritual problem. This is evil at work. Our enemies have applauded the destruction and loss of life, but I cannot stress enough that this is not simply an ideological act. It is the result of sin. This horrendous act of terrorism proves that we live in a fallen world in need of redemption.
The last time you committed some sin, if you thought about it afterwards, you realized that God allowed you to rebel, to disobey Him. I think God allows horrendous acts to convince us that we have an innate problem, a cancer within. We think that with enough medical advances, with a strong economy, with a secure military, we can produce heaven on earth. There can be no heaven on earth while there is sin within us.
Sometimes I talk with good people who can’t imagine why evil persists. They tell me, “If everyone were like me, there would be no wars, no terrorism.” And I agree…but not everyone is like the decent people we see every day.
People are comparing this to Pearl Harbor. I saw the movie, which tried to downplay the evil behind the attack. In the movie a sailor turns to his Admiral and congratulates him for his wisdom. He replies, “If I were truly wise I would have found a way to avoid this action.” We know that such acts are the result of pure hate.
As your minister, I have to tell you the truth. These unspeakable things happen because people are evil. All acts of violence we read of, the small and large, are not simply because of poor education. It is because people reject the Truth. We’ve been taught the Golden Rule. We know right from wrong. And we know that people reject love and embrace hate. Many people do not share our Biblical values. This is why Christ came—to die for sinners, to offer a better Way.
The attacks on New York and the Pentagon have been described as “unprecedented.” But not surprising. People are capable of this, and worse. After the horror of WWII and the Nazi holocaust, we have tried to convince ourselves that atrocities cannot occur. That is a denial of human nature. In Dacchau there is a sign that reads, “Never Again”. Yet evil will continue.
After the events of last week, people may think that God is dead. What we learn from the events of this horrific magnitude is that we are dead…we’re dead spiritually. We have free will, a gift and a curse. God is telling us that we can do His will, and if not, we do what we want.
I am not surprised, but I am sickened. I would also like to think that this is a good world, that things are getting better, that people are capable of getting along, of loving one another. Those notions are destroyed time and time again, as we are freshly reminded just how wicked humankind can be.
We sometimes use the word “insanity” to describe these events. An insane person is not responsible for his or her actions. When actions go beyond reason, we are tempted to deny that normal people can do such things. It’s just not so. The individuals who perpetrated this well-thought out series of attacks were not crazy. They were evil.
At the war trial of Adolph Eichman, when Eichman entered the courtroom, a Jewish witness collapsed. He later explained that he expected to see a monster. Instead, a rather ordinary, normal-looking man came into the courtroom. At that moment, he says, he realized that anyone was capable of untold evil. Eichman wasn’t insane. He was infected with original sin, which causes people to turn from good and embrace hate.
Now we’re in the position of recovery. Those of us who are parents have to explain what has happened to our children, to answer their questions. They may be fearful—and if we’re honest—we are too. They may be angry—we are too. Nonetheless, we want our children to feel safe in an unsafe world. We can reassure our children that, no matter what happens, to know that God will be with us and we know that there will ultimately be justice—if not in this life, in the life to come.
We like to think that we live in a safe world, and that illusion is shattered when violence strikes so close to home. But the Bible describes safety, not as a physical location, nor as a financial position. Our safety comes not in armies or fortifications. The security many people rely on is a false security. Seeing people pass through security gates at the airport may cause us to assume that we’ll have a safe flight…but we now know the only thing we can count on is uncertainty. I’m saying this, not to make us
anxious or insecure, but to point out our true security and safety.
We incorrectly see God as a cosmic Santa Claus who would never let his children suffer, who gives them everything they want. Last week I spoke from Psalm 121, how God does not slumber or sleep, that He is our protection. I still believe that. I believe it because I know that my safety and solace come from Above. Because of this conviction, I am not afraid to die.
We recall the story of the 3 Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, cast into the fiery furnace only to be miraculously rescued. We should also recall what they said prior to what seemed like imminent death, Daniel 3: “Our God will rescue us from your hand, O King…but even if He does not, we want you to know we will not serve your gods or worship the image you have set up.” That “even if He does not” faith is what gets us through. That is our true sense of safety, resting in the hand of God’s providence. We would all be wise to consider the perspective of Psalm 118, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (vs 6).
A Christian martyr said to the Roman authorities, “You may kill us, but you cannot harm us.”
Our safety lies in doing God’s will. Our “safe place” is not where we live, it is in whom we live—regardless of the consequences. If we base our safety on anything other than Christ, we will realize how utterly insufficient that trust is. Our safety is in holding onto our faith, regardless of where that leads or what happens. Faith is rejecting panic when things seem out of control. Faith is confidence in God’s faithfulness in an uncertain world, on an uncharted course, toward an unknown future. Walking with the Lord may not always be an easy road, but it is a “safe” one. We can never be taken from Christ, our “safe place.”