How Should Christians Respond to 9/11?
It was the “where were you when…” moment of our generation. As the Twin Towers fell into giant piles of splintered steel, shattered glass, pulverized concrete and crushed lives, so did our national confidence. Islamic terrorists armed with box cutters and a death-filled agenda did their best to bring us to our knees and make us worse as a nation.
As we witnessed the horror playing out on our television sets that day we gasped, then we cried, and, finally, we mourned with the rest of the nation. Something had changed in America. This new kind of war brought the fight to our front doorsteps in a way that even the bombing of Pearl Harbor could not. In less than an hour, Osama Bin Laden’s lackeys had punched our nation’s capital in the gut and had taken two bites out of the apple of America’s eye. Almost three thousand lives were extinguished in 4 plane crashes that tragic and traumatic morning. It was the most horrific thing that most of us had ever witnessed.
How do we as Christians respond to what happened on that fateful day ten years ago? Should we forgive and forget? Should we join the military to exact some justice? Or is there a different reaction we should have?
In the ten years since the attacks my reaction has been changed again and again. But, as the dust has finally settled, I am convinced from my reading of Scripture that there are three ways Christians should respond.
1. We love our enemies.
Jesus put it boldly and bluntly when he told the crowds,“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
If you insert the words “Islamic terrorists” for “enemies” in this passage it may fill these verses with a whole new meaning for you. It sure did for me. Because right after 9-11 I wanted to board a plane and get some patriotic payback. I wanted to pull a John Wayne meets Clint Eastwood meets Joe Black on these trigger happy extremists. But a few months after the Twin Towers fell I was convicted that I needed to pray for the terrorists in these countries (and in our own) to put their faith in Jesus and be freed from their ideology of hatred.
When is the last time you prayed for a terrorist? Remember as the Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 that our weapons are not the weapons of this world. They have divine strength to demolish spiritual strongholds. We are not to be overcome with evil but to overcome evil with good.
2. We stay vigilant and take action when necessary.
Being good Christians doesn’t mean that we should be naive fools. If we see something fishy going on in our neighborhoods, or any neighborhood for that matter, we should report it to the authorities. Why? Because we are not truly loving our neighbors if we let somebody else blow them up.
Government has a God-ordained authority, not only to protect her citizens, but to exact justice when necessary. Sometimes this protection comes in the form of preemptive strikes on terrorists waiting to attack. Sometimes this justice comes in the form of imprisonment or the death penalty for captured mass murderers (aka “terrorists.”) The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 13:1-4,
“The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
We work with the government by staying vigilant and reporting to the authorities any potential threats to the safety of her citizens. The rulers who “do not bear the sword for no reason” will take care of the rest.
How does all of this apply on a global scale? Put simply there are times when bullies must be stopped militarily. Francis Schaeffer confessed, “This is why I am not a pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world in which we live – this lost world – means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.” Our neighbors are not just those across the street but those across the globe as well.
When is a war just? When is the right time to deploy military tactics and resources to stop injustice? Whatever the answer is, it requires much prayer, evaluation and deep consideration of the motives behind any military action. Greed or retribution are no substitutes for stopping the injustice of a bully seeking to hurt or kill innocent people.
A great movie (actually my favorite movie of all time) is called Sergeant York. It is based on the true story of Sergeant Alvin York who ended up as the most highly decorated soldier of World War I but started the war as a conscientious objector. At first he couldn’t reconcile his newly embraced Christian beliefs (“love your neighbor” and “thou shalt not kill”) with his patriotic duty (defeat the Germans.) It tells the story of his struggle between these two realities in a masterful way. I challenge you to watch this movie and enter the same struggle as Alvin York did. You may come to the same conclusion he did as he wrestled through his Biblical, personal and patriotic convictions.
3. We share the gospel.
Do I rejoice when terrorists die? No. I rejoice when a terrorist comes to Jesus rather than justice. Extremists need the gospel every bit as much as mainstreamists, every bit as much as we do.
Not too long ago I was on a plane sitting next to a man who was reading a book on the tactics and techniques of Al Queda. Trying to comply with point #2 I said, “What are you reading man?” He told me. I nervously cleared my throat and said, “Why are you reading that?”
He explained to me that he was in the FBI and into counter terrorism. He told me that he helped to catch the bomb-making terrorists who were in Denver last year. We talked for awhile about his job and, then, launching into an awkward salvation segue, I said, “I’m into counter-terrorism too.” He looked surprised but then smiled when I told him that I was a preacher and that Satan was the terrorist. Attempting to share the gospel with him he cut me short and said, “I’m a Christian too!” As we both talked, we reminded ourselves that the ultimate answer to terrorism is not military intelligence, preemptive strikes or stricter sentences for captured terrorists. The ultimate answer is God’s people rising up and reaching out with the gospel of Jesus Christ all over the globe, starting in our own neighborhoods.
Some may call me naïve, but Scripture tells us clearly that the real battle is not against flesh and blood. Ultimately our battles are not against terrorists or evil political regimes. Our struggle is against Satan himself and the only way to attack him and win is through prayer and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we really believe that, it will bring us to our knees-but in a good way.
As we face 9-11 as believers, let us face this tragedy with the hope that only comes through Jesus Christ. Let us take action to protect those around us and to reach those who surround us with the message that can turn an ideology of hatred into a theology of love.