The attack on sites in the United States was not only tragic and horrifying, but a very symbolic strike against the top military power in the world (the Pentagon), and against the group of buildings that more than any other represented the entire commercial world system, the World Trade Center.
Some will have noticed the similarity of this event to the fall of Babylon described in Revelation (though in Revelation 18 Babylon was not up and operating again within a week!)If we look at the physical events we see those great buildings, containing organisations and people from many countries all over the world, collapsing under their own weight within a single hour of being hit.But let’s leave speculation about Babylon for another time and look at the real issues confronting us in this disaster.
The people who suffered and died because of this attack did not bring it on themselves by their “sin”, as some like to suggest.Jesus was once told the news of a tower collapsing and killing people.Just as he had repudiated the suggestion that a man had suffered blindness all his life because of sin, so he swept aside the very thought that those killed were being punished by God.Jesus’s response to both started at the point at which he was confronted with the suffering: in one case, to heal the blind man; and in the other, to warn his listeners to avert a similar fate which was likely to come on them.
In his meditations on Jesus, the apostle Paul comments that God does not keep account of the world’s sins: his determination is not to pay us back evil for the evil any of us have done – either out of revenge, legal retribution, or correction – it is to give us life and reconcile us to himself.And the only way he uses to do that is to take our evil and our sufferings on himself in Jesus.That is his only answer to evil.That is the only thing he does with sin.
This attack was not ordained by God, though the chief suspect judged it to be.Speaking of him, a Palestinian journalist said. "Osama bin Laden thanked Almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news."
This act of terror was done with the full intention of taking as many lives as possible.An “Almighty Allah” may well be thought to be behind such an incident, but the God and father of Jesus Christ was not.Jesus was horrified at the idea of wishing to destroy a small village with a fireball, let alone the thousands of lives that have been lost in this one event.He, the very image of his Father, said that he did not come to destroy people’s lives but to save them.So we do not share Mr bin Laden’s viewpoint.
God was not motivating those who carried out this atrocity: he was with those who suffered pain, terror and bereavement as result of it; he was in those who voluntarily risked their own lives by running into danger to save others.
What should our response be to what has happened?Of course, our first reaction was disbelief, and horror as we slowly absorbed the fact that what we were watching was not Hollywood special effects, but masses of people actually losing their lives.But now, thoughts are turning to action against all those who made such an abomination possible.
Anger and lust for revenge are natural responses.Nearly 90% of Americans are calling for the heaviest reaction possible; a British television poll revealed the same percentage were in favour of full-blown military strikes.People around the world are outraged.They are also fearful that this could be repeated anywhere at any time, out of a clear blue sky, as literally happened in New York.
Jesus, while he was dying, prayed for those who had plotted and carried out his death.“Father, forgive them,” he said.He was praying for his personal enemies, yes: Judas, the friend who handed him over to be killed, religious leaders who had turned against him because he showed up their hypocrisy.But mostly, those he prayed for were not his personal enemies.Let’s look at the two main groups included in his prayer.
l The Romans had invaded and occupied his own nation, oppressed his people and impoverished them with taxes that raised money for more Roman invasions.Jesus knew how the Romans treated the common people, threatening them with violence, sometimes following up those threats, using them as unpaid labourers and porters, humiliating their women, brutally suppressing political dissent.Jesus must have personally known many people who had been mistreated in these ways.It was people like this that Jesus forgave and prayed for as he died.
l The top religious leaders oppressed the small people and collaborated with the occupying force.They were angry with Jesus because his portrayal of God turned on its head all they had taught and built their power upon.They were also afraid that if they welcomed Jesus there would be Roman reprisals and that they would destroy their temple and nation.(Ironically, this happened anyway in AD 70: Jesus had predicted just such a disaster as a result of their not recognising him as messiah and changing the direction they were going.)
Paul tells us that we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. (Ephesians 6:12)It is not evil men who are the main problem, but evil itself.The real answer is not to wipe out the perpetrators of such atrocities, but for the evil in their hearts to be eradicated.
Jesus did not try to win over the hearts of his enemies by becoming what they wanted him to be, or by bowing to their ideas or to demands to compromise his message.He did so by giving himself for their welfare.
What would be the result if a nation state such as America and her allies were to behave exactly as Jesus taught - return good for evil, and pray for those who mistreated them?Perhaps hold days of prayer for those who had done this deed?Send them messages of love, food, medicines, assure them in word and deed that they were sincerely working for a fair distribution of resources in the world?We don’t know, because no country has ever tried it.Jesus lived and died by it … but then, he did die by it, ending up on a cross.Let’s face it, worldly success is not often gained by using unworldly means.
But then, Jesus’s goal was not worldly success, it was to reconcile the world to God no matter what it cost him.At times like this, when we start to see the extent of the hold that evil has on some, it becomes clearer why it would take such extreme action as the cross for God to bring the world to himself.
God has only one way to reconcile the world to himself, and that is the way of the cross of Jesus.There is no Plan B.It is the only thing that will dispel all evil.And it will succeed.
Now, the task of communicating this message of reconciliation has passed to us.In view of this, what should we do?