A Christian Response to 9/11

by Kim Harrington


A group of ministers were discussing the attack on the World Trade Center on Christian radio when the announcer took advantage of a lull in the conversation and changed direction a bit.

Turning to the senior member of the panel, he asked, "Dr. ____, what do we do now? What is the Christian response to this dreadful act of terror?"

"Well, Bob," the older man said, pausing for effect, "you may not like this answer, but the first thing we must do is pray for the perpetrators of this crime."

A gasp of astonishment and outrage went up from the other ministers, but the old gent forged ahead, using the Sermon on the Mount as a reference. He counseled Americans to turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you, give your coat to the one who takes your shirt, and leave vengeance to God.

The venerable doctor’s inability, or unwillingness, to relax his professional demeanor, his attempt to be gently provocative while appearing to be true to the Word of God, did a great disservice to those suffering people in our land who deserved to hear something more substantial from their spiritual counselors.

Ann Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham was interviewed the same day on a secular radio station in the Minneapolis area. "What do you say to those who are angry about all this, to those who are anxious for retribution?" the announcer asked.

"Anger is appropriate at a time like this," she replied. "God Himself is angry." Anger is a part of His nature—it is He who gave us the ability to respond with anger. "We shouldn’t lose our collective temper," she added. That doesn’t achieve the purposes of God. But we must find out who did this detestable act of terrorism, and respond vigorously. God is a God of justice.

I was much happier with Ms. Lotz’s response than I was with the canned Christian cliches of the pastor on the other channel. Her words made sense and appealed to the sense of outrage, the desire for justice that Americans are feeling in the wake of these attacks. We are a people who have a deep sense of fair play, and it simply would not be right to take a turn-the-other-cheek stance in the midst of national tragedy.

It would also not be scriptural.

To be angry at sin, to desire righteous retribution—the entire concept of justice and fair play—are values that we’ve learned from the Bible. These are not major concerns in cultures with little or no exposure to the true and living God. Our God loves sinners, but is angry at sin. In the pages of Scripture we see that He punishes sin, and rewards those who are similarly offended at it. The heroes of the Old Testament were those who took an unbending stance toward moral issues, who "contended for the faith," as Jude, the brother of Jesus, later put it.

What about hell? How can Christians balk at the punishment of sin when one of the main tenets of our faith is a belief that the unrighteous will suffer great punishment in the afterlife? The Gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is presented against the backdrop of hell—believe on Him and you shall not perish, you shall not burn in eternal flames, but have everlasting life.

Nevertheless, our sanctimonious doctor was referring to legitimate New Testament passages. Consider the following...

"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

"Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-48

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:18-21

Certain things, however, need to be taken into consideration if we are to arrive at the original intent of the above passages...

The Point of These Instructions is Not "Don’t Defend Yourself," but Rather, "Earnestly Strive to Keep Your Heart Right." The sincere follower of Christ needs to guard his or her heart at all times. To give place to bitterness, resentment, and the smoldering hatred that drives a person to seek revenge is to destroy your inner man. These emotions punish you, not your enemies.

The terrorists who committed cowardly, detestable acts of violence on over 3000 innocent people had long since committed spiritual suicide. How would you like to be married to someone who was driven by, possessed by, such a deep-seated animosity? It must have spilled over into every relationship they had. We do not want to be of the same ilk as these tormented, hateful beings.

Somebody said, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies. Nothing will do such spiritual, mental and emotional damage to your soul as undealt-with bitterness and anger. This is why Jesus advised us to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek. Getting punched again, or being taken advantage of is not as potentially damaging as holding bitterness toward the one who hit you. We should not let ourselves be drawn down to the level at which our enemy operates—we are better people than that, we are more noble, we serve a gracious heavenly Father who shines His sun and sends His rain upon the just and the unjust alike, upon those who worship Him as well as those who curse His name.

It is still appropriate to defend your family, however. Paul instructed his disciple Timothy, "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever," (1 Tim 5:8). Certainly providing for your own does not include letting a burglar steal from you without resisting him, or turning the other cheek when someone tries to rape your daughter.

If we were to follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, applying the sermon on the mount literally to every area of life, the most appropriate response to the disaster of the World Trade Center would be to offer Bin Laden and his associates the Sears Tower in Chicago as well! ("If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also,"). Somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

Turning the other cheek also doesn’t apply to soldiers. Christians are forbidden to murder—it’s one of the Ten Commandments—but this doesn’t exclude the possibility of them fighting in the armed forces to defend their homeland. David was a valorous warrior, always fighting the "Lord’s battles," yet he’s known as "a man after God’s own heart" (Acts 13:22), someone very close to the Lord, someone who knew how God felt and acted accordingly. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they needed to do, he didn’t tell them to get another vocation; he said, "be content with your wages." (see 1 Sam 25:28, Acts 13:22, Luke 3:14).

Always Examine the Context of Any Passage of Scripture Before Drawing Conclusions—It’s the First Rule of Sound Biblical Interpretation. The context of the sermon on the mount is "getting along with your neighbor" not "how to handle a national crisis in which thousands of your fellow citizens have already lost their lives." The Apostle Paul didn’t have the mass murder of innocent people in mind when he told the Romans to "overcome evil with good." He was talking about squabbling believers!

Armies in biblical days didn’t have the capability of taking out thousands of people in a matter of a few minutes’ time. This sort of thing never occurred to the writers of Scripture in their worst nightmares. There simply was no context like this back then.

Further, We Must Realize that there is a Difference Between the Actions of Individuals and Those of the Civil Government. Individuals are forbidden to kill, but the government is commanded no less than seventy-five times in the Law of Moses to execute people for various offences...

"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death."

Exodus 21:21

God gave the civil government of Israel the right to decide matters of life and death—after a man was fairly tried in the courts. An individual was not allowed to take the life of a fellow human being on his own, not even if it was a seemingly legitimate case of vengeance. "Vengeance is mine," the Lord says, "not yours." Let the courts, and the God-anointed judges, determine guilt and pass sentence. To end the life of another human being is too serious a proposition to be placed in the hands of one man, especially a man whose objectivity could be clouded by anger and hurt.

The government of any nation is responsible before God for the protection of its people. Individuals may turn the other cheek, nations must rise to the defense of their citizens when provoked and attacked. On numerous occasions in the Old Testament the Lord sent His people to do battle with an enemy that had been preying upon them. When they called upon Him for help in the heat of the battle He answered, sending confusion in the ranks of the opposition, or even helping out. (see Joshua 10:11, Isaiah 37:35-36)

It’s morally and scripturally appropriate for a nation to defend itself against the attacks of the enemy. What would have become of the world if the United States had not entered into World War II? Truly that was a just cause, a war in which God was truly on our side, in which we had no other moral choice but to jump in and do our level best.

How much more is the current crisis morally correct, when our women and children have been destroyed by cowards who dive airplanes into buildings and send anthrax spores to unsuspecting people in the mail? It is not unchristian to strike back—it would be unchristian to refrain from striking back! God will help us as we do—the bulk of scripture attests to it.

The government of the United States has responded to the present crisis with restraint and integrity. Our leaders are determined to win the war on terrorism decisively, putting Osama Bin Laden and his allies out of business completely, sending a clear warning to any others who would consider the murder of innocent U.S. citizens in the future.


What Can We Do Now?

The church must show at least as much integrity and determination to do the right thing as our government has. Primarily, we must pray…

"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

1 Chronicles 7:14

Prayer is not inaction, or the hopeless recourse of someone whose hands are tied and who is unable to do anything of real value. Prayer is more than finding a place of peace in your own heart by unloading your burdens upon the Lord. Prayer unleashes the power of Almighty God, making it the most powerful activity anybody could possibly engage in. The prayer of faith can heal the sick, comfort those who mourn, and turn the very tide of history.

The American church needs to stand in intercession on behalf of our land. This is a crucial moment in our history, and decisions made at this time could have long-lasting effects upon our future. We need to pray that President Bush and his immediate staff and cabinet would hear from God, and not be swayed by political correctness and pressure from other sectors. We need to pray for a spirit of unity and cooperation in Congress—partisan, business-as-usual politics could cause uncertainty and hesitation when quick action is called for.

We must continue to pray for the families of the victims, especially the orphaned children mentioned earlier. The enemy of our souls would like nothing better than to compound the suffering of these devastated kids by shuffling them around from one foster home to another, or placing them in an abusive, dysfunctional environment. The prayers of God’s people can dispel the confusion and help bring hurting children—and adults—to a place where they can find true healing in Christ.

Pray for the other effects that such a national tragedy might have upon our nation as a whole: the economy, for example. In the weeks immediately following September eleventh, the stock market, already volatile, became unstable and dropped hundreds of points. Airlines complained about huge losses and some went under—it would appear that Osama Bin Laden had dealt a stronger blow than he thought against his declared enemy, if the wound he dealt was measured in billions of dollars lost. Again, prayer may move things in the realm of the supernatural and bring God’s grace to bear on our beloved homeland.

Pray for the truth of the Gospel to reach and touch the befuddled minds of millions of Muslims the world over. Most of the followers of Islam are not right-wing extremists—the majority are sick of jihad and simply want to return to a peaceful life where success is measured by the obedience of one’s children and a reasonable degree of personal prosperity. If we saturate the Muslim world with prayer, we may be able to turn millions of young people toward a more satisfying life in Jesus Christ.

Further, we must pray that God would somehow work good out of the tragedy and pain that has gripped so many hearts and lives, both in the United States and Afghanistan, where thousands of families have also lost loved ones. In our attempt to understand suffering in this little book, we have come up with few answers that really bring healing to the victims—tragedy of any kind is still painful and hard to live with. The hope for the bereaved lies in the future, in what God may yet do to put lives back together and bring blessings that will impart joy and fulfillment, even though they can never completely erase the pain. Lessons can be learned and wisdom gained, people brought closer to the Lord and enabled to help others in similar situations.

Pray that the victims of this tragedy and of all the daily tragedies in the world will not be embittered, but will walk by faith, knowing that a loving God still has their best interests in mind. Pray that friends and neighbors and local congregations will not grow weary but stick with them until their recovery is complete.

Pray that new, righteous laws will be enacted to safeguard us against future attacks of terrorism, that immigration policies will be reviewed and changed, and that this politically correct mindset, accompanied by the fear of lawsuits from the ACLU will be replaced by rational and objective reasoning in our land. Pray that hundreds of thousands of our own citizens will find Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and that Americans will not back-burner their spiritual hunger once again as things gradually return to normal.

Pray that the tremendous suffering and loss of September eleventh, as well as the pain and agony that millions of people go through every day, will not be in vain.

If you personally have not committed your life to the Lord Jesus, pray right now for forgiveness and salvation as you confess your own sins and believe in Him. A personal relationship with God, through Christ, means you not only have assurance that your sins are forgiven and that you’re on your way to heaven, but that you can have life and peace right now. Only He can reach into the depths of your heart and comfort you when you mourn, as you attempt to come to grips with the reality of suffering in your life. Whether you have lost a loved one, endured a prolonged illness, or simply seem to have had a run of bad luck, the Master Comforter, and the only one who can ultimately fix the problem, is the Living God. Turn to Him right now, he won’t refuse you.


(this article is an excerpt from Kim Harrington's book, "Understanding Suffering, from National Tragedy to Personal Loss," Copyright © 2001,  Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.


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