I’ll never forget that day, and neither will you.
They say that when dawn breaks over new-fallen snow, it’s like waking up to a whole new world… but I live in Florida.
The only “new world” I’ve woken up to was heralded not by a carpet of fresh white winter, but the billowing black smoke of a burning building on my television, the opening salvo of what would become “The War on Terror.”
I was nineteen years old, working at our local newspaper, and remember just sitting there in the small apartment I shared with a friend, staring blankly at images that will forever be seared in my memory as the flash-point of a hatred that had been building for decades, and continues to this day. They were not lost, lonely souls who hijacked planes and plowed them into civilian buildings, they were evil, and evil must be stopped.
And yet, what of mercy? What of forgiveness? What of the cross of Christ?
Ponder this passage of Scripture for a moment…
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:17-21
My flesh, my “humanness” demanded vengeance that day and in the seasons that followed. Perhaps you felt the same way, a sense of hurt, of wrong, of vulnerability that wanted to “get even” with those who had done such a vile thing to our country. But that is not the way of Christ.
God’s call on the Christian is that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” The way of Jesus is to turn the other cheek, to forgive when wronged, and to trust God to work things out in the end. This is the way of Jesus…
Look now at what Paul writes in the next chapter of Romans, as he takes us out of the realm of individual retribution and into the arena of national and governmental responsibility.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. – Romans 13:1-4
Methods and motives aside, there are those who would say the very idea that a nation should go to war against their enemies is a wicked thing. They would point to passages like the first one that speak of doing good to all and not avenging ourselves, but to take such a stance is simplistic and naive, and is not actually faithful to the text.
Look again at Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” What Paul is doing is writing to individual believers and telling them to “leave room for God’s wrath” and not take matters into their own hands. Then in the next chapter he clarifies what “leaving room” actually means, that it is the responsibility of nations and states and collective governments to participate in the righting of wrongs and the dealing of justice in the world. Do we do so with flawed methods and questionable motives? Yes. But to lay down arms in the face of evil is to not only be foolish in terms of our national interest, but is to thumb our nose at God’s justice and tell Him, “send fire and brimstone or something; we’ll sit this one out.”
As individual believers, God’s call on us is to pray for our enemies, all of them, in the hopes that God would bring them to repentance and reconciliation through Christ. After all, while most of us would say we’ve never done something so vile as mass murder and terror, in comparison to a perfectly holy God, we are all just as vile as them. The forgiveness of Christ is given to us, so that we as people can give it to others.
At the same time, the justice of God must be upheld, and it is given to mankind to carry it out as best we can. Again, see how Paul writes in Romans 13:1 that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Our patriotism can serve His plan and purpose, provided we pursue it properly.
One final thing…
(To be continued.)