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Foreword: Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who lost loved-ones in the recent terrorist attacks against the United States, and to those in firefighting, law enforcement, politics, and the military serving God and the people of the United States in this crisis.
The vicious attack on Americans September 11, 2001 came as a shock and an affront to all in this world who seek to live in a just peace. This issue of the Mid-Watch Report is to give careful consideration to some of the issues that call for consideration following this attack on America.
Those who commit acts of terrorism do so out of hatred, and if they provoke hatred on the part of their enemies, they succeed in one of their goals. If we also engage in hatred, we give them a victory by surrendering control. If, instead, by God’s grace, we control and direct our anger, we take an important first step towards defeating our enemies by not letting them, or the hatred they want to engender, be in control.
Let us be clear, those who respond to terrorism with hatred, and thus engage in the logic of terrorism (which is the logic of hatred), often become terrorists themselves; fueling the very thing they say they have committed themselves to eliminate.
Anger is a natural and appropriate human response to atrocity; hatred is not. Anger is an emotion that prepares us for action. We cannot help getting angry when circumstances warrant, and we should not expect not to get angry in those circumstances. Anger, however, while it can be made our servant when strong action is required, makes a terrible, terrible master; causing no end of difficulty for the person who is angry and anyone in their path. That is why James writes, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20) and Paul writes, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26, 27).1 This means consciously directing our anger so that we are its master and it does not master us.
There are at least four parts to this. The first is prayer. We need to seek the Lord when we are angry in recognition that, especially when stressed or threatened, we need the help of the Lord to do what is right in His sight (John 15:5), and by humbling ourselves before Him, we gain the right perspective (Psalm, 73, Matthew 5:3-9).
Secondly, we need to focus upon meeting the need created by the circumstance rather than the circumstance itself. We need to take the energy of anger, which comes from the hormones that prepare us for “flight or fight,” and use it to give us the energy to meet the immediate need. If we focus upon what made us angry, we only get angrier. If we focus upon a solution, we can satisfy our need to address the situation while serving God and others in that situation.
Thirdly, we need to recognize that anger and grief are closely related emotions, and sometimes when we choose to be angry it is because we want to avoid feeling sad. We need to have the courage to grieve when grief is appropriate. This takes courage because we do not like the feeling of powerlessness that comes with grief. But, if we obey Peter’s exhortation to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6, cf. Psalm 73), then we are able to endure our human weaknesses because we rest in the reality and love of the One who has all strength - the Almighty. Thus Paul exhorted, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Fourthly, it is helpful to remember the terrible effects of giving in to blind anger. Temptation always tends to narrow our focus so that we see only one aspect of a situation and what we perceive to be the “benefit” of acting wrongly. Part of avoiding sin is looking at an entire situation over the long-run and seeing the long-term effects of our actions - looking past the “benefit” to measure the true cost.
Not only Scripture, but human experience shows clearly that those who hate destroy themselves - often doing more damage to themselves than to their enemies. This may consist of an inner destruction of both inner joy and morality. But, very often it brings the ruin of the individual outwardly as well. Suicide is the most extreme example of this - and the suicide of the nineteen individuals who attacked the US on September 11, 2001 is an example of this. Their hatred resulted in their destruction; and this is the inevitable end of those who hate.
Further, let those who still think hatred is appropriate consider this important fact: If you direct your hatred against a group - such as a racial, ethnic, or religious group - whenever you direct your hatred against those individuals who are innocent you “take the heat” off the individuals who are truly guilty. Thus, those who indulge themselves in the indiscriminate hatred of a group actually defeat the purpose of bringing the real perpetrators of evil to justice.
As if this weren’t enough, those who encourage hatred against an entire group deprive themselves of allies within that group who are willing to help bring the real perpetrators to justice. At a time when we need to stand united as Americans, we need the help of every American. Truly, as Abraham Lincoln reminded us, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25, Luke 11:17). Those who promote the hatred of all within a racial, ethnic, or religious group are undermining themselves.
Finally, consider that you will answer to the Lord for oppressing the innocent. God is the Creator of all mankind. If you are an oppressor of the innocent, you will come before God with this on your conscience; for you are trying to destroy what God created (Psalm 103:6; Deuteronomy 19:10-13, 21:1-9; Proverbs 6:12-19; Isaiah 59:1-19; Jeremiah 7:6,7 22:3, 13-19).
For many years Americans maintained that our nation had common values. Then, in the 60’s and 70’s, many people, including many in influential positions of leadership in the academic community, the media, government, and even in some mainline, religious denominations, decided that specific values don’t matter - and, many Americans actually started working against people who held traditional values.2 This attitude has gone so far, in fact, that even treason isn’t considered by some with the gravity it had before, and we have had a number of trusted servants of the people betray our nation in recent years.
The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the terrorist acts against on American soil on September 11, 2001 should be enough to show everyone that values do matter - in one sense that is obvious and in another sense that may not be quite so obvious.
The obvious sense is that the values of the perpetrators caused them to do horrific and despicable acts of destruction in the name of their “morality” - for in all cases the perpetrators were motivated by their own, twisted sense of morality and spirituality - a desire to right some wrongs. The only, the only remedy for this is acknowledged common values that help all to understand the wickedness of destructive behavior. Those values have to come from somewhere, and our Declaration of Independence and the common witness of men from Jefferson to Washington to Lincoln to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that those values come from belief in God; for “we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights” (italics mind); so we are “one nation, under God.” These are the values, after all, that made American unique and the magnet for people to emigrate to and imitate. That means we have certain common values because there is one God, and respect for every individual because God is our common Creator. If other nations do not accept this belief, every American should.
That is not to say that we should, in any way, deprive people of the freedom of religion that allows them to be atheists and agnostics. But it does mean that we recognize that our respect for all people comes from one, common spiritual heritage and perspective, and that people commit themselves to that heritage and those values whether they accept traditional Judeo-Christian religious beliefs or not. In this manner we demonstrate and insist that those who differ from us do so in ways that do not devalue human life, but respect it.
The second sense applies not to those who became terrorists but to the American population at large, the victims of these terrorist attacks. Why is it that we did not spend enough money on our own security when many billions of dollars are carelessly spent on frivolity and entertainment every year? Certainly the answer is not that we did not have enough resources to have reduced, if not eliminated, the severity of such an attack.
Please permit me to speak frankly - and as an American rather than at Americans. The truth is that America has become, in too many ways, a hedonistic playground rather than a purposeful nation in a world of real needs. This is not to impugn all American citizens or all American activities. There are many things for which we, as Americans, should rightly be proud. But we have been collectively shaken to a new sense of responsibility and place in this world, and it is best for us, as a nation, to face this fully.
We are appalled at the destruction by these terrorist acts within our borders, but have come to accept as normal many risky and destructive behaviors. As a people, we often seem bent upon self-destructive activities. In our entertainment, we glorify those who are vengeful and violent in the most graphic terms. Our entertainment is too often centered upon that which debases rather than that which enriches the human spirit. We have become callous to those in our society who take us to greater and greater depths of rudeness and crudity. We often give scant reward to those who try to build our society and massive, financial rewards to those whose major, and sometimes only skill, is to be vulgar. We have, as a people, lost the distinction between “liberty” and “license.”
We tend to reward people who are simply greedy. We do not honor those who get money through resourcefulness and hard work over people who engage in immorality or wanton risk. We eagerly throw money away in gambling rather than to purchase something created by a dedicated and skillful craftsman; so that we fail to reward people for hard work. Our motto used to be “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay;” now, too often, it is “all I can get for the least I have to put into it.” We applaud the greed of executives who take away in massive bonuses the money that should have gone to the workers they laid off so that the executives can have the money for themselves; keeping money for luxuries that workers needed for necessities. And when we applaud this, we do so harboring the hope that we can be just as greedy someday.
We destroy ourselves with alcoholism, drug addiction, venereal disease, and so forth, without a thought to the consequences for our nation; engaging in risky behavior and expecting medicine and the government to rescue us from the consequences. We condemn racism and hatred, but too often excuse hateful speech against groups that aren’t “politically correct.” These are not problems that our government can ever solve for us, but problems that we must address ourselves. They can only go away if we individually and collectively decide not to behave in destructive ways; and then they can go away quickly. For that which is of our own creation can be put aside by our own choice.
Especially in the aftermath of events that involve great loss of life, such as these terrorist attacks, I believe that most Americans would agree that “life is a gift from God.” If that is so, then let us live life to serve God and mankind, not to indulge in careless, trivial, and destructive pursuits. To put it in religious terms, those who choose sin curse themselves (Romans 6:23).
To put it still another way, I ask you to consider carefully, my American compatriots: shall we go to war against terrorism only so that we can destroy ourselves with risky and immoral pursuits rather than be destroyed by others? If you deny that this is the case, then I ask you, why was so much money spent in gambling and “recreational” drugs and so little spent on our security prior to this attack? Why are rude entertainers so lavishly rewarded when hard-working family farmers are too often so little rewarded they cannot hang onto their farms? Were we not - to use a play on words to make a serious point - gambling with our future? And isn’t it time to sober up and live life in the service of God and mankind rather than in the service of what is selfish, base, and foul?
Let us be clear: we are all going to live and die. Let us live for something noble - or question whether we have the right to vilify others who also live for that which is ignoble.
As Christians, we advocate for ourselves what we advocate for others: the freedom to practice our faith in peace. In addition, we ask others to consider our right to practice our faith in a manner that we believe most honors God through Jesus Christ. Our commitment to respect and stand with other Americans does not mean that we surrender our unique faith or our unique reverence for Jesus Christ; our praying with others for the welfare of our nation does not set aside our insistence, on the basis of our commitment to the teachings of Scripture, that eternal salvation is by God through Jesus Christ.
However, particularly in times of stress, it is important for all to recognize that when we, as Christians, oppose sin and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our weapons are Truth and Love.
Further, we must, as faithful Christians, make careful distinctions. We believe, with the apostle Paul, that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we stress the spiritual battle against sin and evil above all, believing that all human strife stems from the effects of sin; for which the Gospel of Christ is the only true and complete remedy.
At the same time we believe, with Paul, that human “rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil,” that they do not “bear the sword for nothing,” and that our leaders are avengers who bring wrath on the ones who practice evil (Romans 13:3, 4). In other words, our political leaders are charged by God with keeping order in human society at large, in which they serve God and are responsible to God. Officers of the law and the military are duly constituted to use force, when necessary, in the pursuit of righteousness and peace on earth; and are also responsible to God when they abuse their power or neglect their responsibilities.
Therefore, while it is true that vengeance is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Hebrews 10:30), and will be executed by God at the great final Judgment of all souls, it is nevertheless true that God works through duly constituted governments in this age both to keep order in society and to provide a measure of justice in human relations; which would otherwise be chaotic and almost totally unjust.
It is also true that in the Old Testament we see plainly taught the transfer of the prosecution of justice from the individual to society as a whole. This is to prevent the blood feud in which each side tries to “top” the other in vengeance and violence for year after year, ad infinitum. What isn’t usually recognized is that “an eye for an eye” and “an ear for an ear,” continually referred to as harsh justice, was really a limiting factor to violence in the time it was introduced. It can be summarized as “the punishment should fit the crime, and go nor farther,” a basis for our judicial system and a limit upon excessive acts of retribution.
As Christians we seek peace and try to promote peace, obeying the Scripture which teaches us to, “pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) and to, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Yet, when attacked, the choice has been removed from us. And, I believe, not to respond to stop those who perpetrate evil is to be in complicity with them.
Therefore, in my view, it is our Christian duty to stand by our nation, doing everything that it is within our power to support the campaign against the injustices of terrorism (Proverbs 3:27). But it is also our duty to God to continue to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ - the Gospel of peace - to a world overly burdened by sin. --SMD
Hebrews 13:20, 21
1 It is very helpful to examine the context of this quote, Ephesians 4:17-5:17. See also the article, “Sin and Human Desire," which discusses the fact that sin is often meeting legitimate needs in ways that are not pleasing to God.
2 Dr. Alan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), documents the change in our culture whereby the greatest wrong is to maintain that anyone else’s values are wrong. See also the article, "Confronting the Violence that Besets Us."
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
"The American Night Watch" is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is copyright © 2001 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce this newsletter or the articles within in their entirety as long as the copies are not sold for profit and all copyrights are included, and to quote from the newsletter as long as the meaning of the text is not distorted.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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This page was last updated September 7, 2008.