PASTOR COLUMN - What have we learned from tragedy of 9/11?

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Ten years ago today I bolted from the bathroom to my wife's call. The television was tuned to the morning news as we prepared ourselves for work. Across the continent, television cameras were focused on the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City, where one tower had been struck by an airplane. As I watched it burn, another airplane rammed into the second tower. Suddenly it was apparent this was not an accident.

As the day unfolded, we learned of a similar attack against the Pentagon abd the crash of a hijackedd airliner in Pennsylvania. America was under siege! Not since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had America's security been so rudely jolted.

Since that fateful day, the United States has been engaged in two long wars. The reality of that hit home when my parents shared a newspaper article about the death in Afghanistan of a next-door playmate. Because of the stalled economy, he'd been unable to secure steady work. He'd secured a civilian position in Afghanistan. His plan was to work there for a year, then return home. That would enable him to support his family until the economy rebounded. He probaby reasoned that he'd not be fighting. He no doubt weighed any potential danger against the risks of his personal financial crisis. Like many soldiers and other civilians, his decision cost him his life.

Many such stories are now part of the fabric of American life. A bloody thread has been woven into the American quilt. Young men from my congregation have served and are serving in Afghanistan. I remember conducting a baby dedication for the child of a young man just before he departed for Afghanistan. I could not help but wonder if that infant would ever see her father again. The mounting death toll means thousands of children have lost mother or father - some without ever having the opportunity to meet the parent they'll never know.

And, this last decade, have we learned anything from these tragedies?

Scripture tells us that government has been established by God to maintain order in a chaotic, sin-filled world. The pre-eminent New Testament missionary, Paul, wrote, "The authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong." (Romans 13:3,4).

Government's God-given function is to bring wrongdoers to justice. Thus, there is no nave concept about the natural goodness of humanity.

Paul also wrote, "All (emphasis mine) have turned away from God; all have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one ... They are quick to commit murder. Wherever they go, destruction and misery follow them. They do not know what true peace is. They have no fear of God to restrain them ... For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." (Romans 3:12, 15-18, 23) The question is not, "Why do tragedies happen?" but rather, "Why do tragedies not happen more often?"

We entrust our military and our local police with the use of force to restrain evil. Otherwise, the evil within us all would destroy the human race. As long as sin exists, there will never be a time when the restraining function of government will become unnecessary.

Some sincere, nave souls believe that if Americans were just nice to everyone, everybody would love us. Reality is otherwise, and burying our head in the sand of nave assumptions will not change that.

God, however, desires much more than merely restraining evil. He wants to overcome it. Here, the restraining function of government is impotent.

How ironic that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were carried out against a nation where one-third of its annual gross national production is tied up in its military and related functions. America possesses enough fire-power to annihilate planet Earth, but it was not enough to keep a handful of terrorists from taking thousands of lives and inflicting multimillion-dollar losses. While God has assigned the task of restraining evil to government, He has called on those who believe in Him, wherever they may live, to join the fight against evil. The weapons of this warfare aren't made in munitions factories. Its strategies aren't developed by military think tanks. The success of this mission does not depend upon physical violence, and it isn't directed against human beings, but against the evil ideologies that distort their thinking and the evil inclinations that shape their destructive actions.

Paul wrote, "We are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms. Use every piece of God's armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere." Ephesians 6:12-18 He also writes, "Never (emphasis mine) pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, "I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it," says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: "If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you (literally: "you will heap burning coals on their heads.") Don't let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good." (Romans 12:17-21).

According to the Bible, evil is not overcome by physical weapons of warfare. Rather, the weapons of this warfare are truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, Scripture, and prayer. Evil is not conquered by exacting revenge, but by doing good. A story is told about President Abraham Lincoln, who, when confronted by those who thought he was too conciliatory toward his political enemies, Lincoln replied, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" We need more of this kind of wisdom today.

Although we'd be nave to believe that everyone will love us, much more could be done in the spirit of Lincoln. We could fool ourselves by thinking that increasing our military and intelligence spending from one third to one half or three quarters of our production would provide the safety we desire. Not only would this destroy our economy, it would not achieve the desired outcome.

While Americans must invest so government may fulfill its God-given function of restraining evil, much more could be achieved if we directed our energies toward making friends.

Paul's list of spiritual weaponry would help: 1. Truth. Sadly, if we are honest, there are far too many examples of American exploitation. We need look no further than our own northwest region and the multiple treaty violations against Native-Americans. We need the truth whether it soothes or hurts. Only then can we redress wrongs committed without blindly assigning guilt to all Americans. 2. Righteousness. Every effort must be put forth to do things right as judged by the divine standard. American companies who do business abroad must not only be measured by their profit margin but also by the investment which they make in bettering the lives of the people living in the host nation. There are American companies whose track records demonstrate worthy stewardship of the environment and a keen interest in the education and development of the cultures where they do business. Wherever these ventures are emulated and multiplied, America will make friends. 3. Peace. Our first response must never be retaliation. We must recognize that the lives of our political foes are just as valuable to God as are our own. The indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations will only foment hatred and retaliation. Force must always be a last resort. 4. Faith. The heavy worldwide investment in spying and intelligence underscores the paucity of trust in society. Yet, friendships rely on trust. If we cannot express genuine faith in others we can be assured that they will likely never have faith in us either.

In addition, Paul writes about salvation, Scripture, and prayer - explicitly Christian concepts. Developing a right relationship with God, having a God-authored standard of conduct and an open relationship with our Creator form the foundation for concepts enumerated above. When individuals who operate governments are secure in their relationship with God and informed regarding His standards of conduct, God will guide them to make decisions that encourage international friendships with like-minded men and women of goodwill in other nations.

Now, what if we also applied Paul's concepts of forgiveness to international relationships? What if we expended more effort to feed our enemies and less times finding new ways to kill them?

Have our attempts to secure our world through force of arms been effective? Honestly, there has been a measure of success in the restraint of evil. Yet, God wants so much more. He wants to overcome evil. We can cooperate with this objective by first submitting our lives unreservedly to Him, repenting of our personal sinfulness, and allowing Him to control every aspect of our lives. We can cooperate with God's work by employing the weapons of spiritual warfare toward the goals of increasing trust, understanding, and cooperation. If we do not, we can expect an even more dangerous world. Only time will tell if we have learned from our mistakes.

Pastor Dan Solis is associate pastor of the The Village Seventh-day Adventist Church. All Scriptures are from the New Living Translation of the Bible.Email: dansolistv@gmail.com.

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