Category: Uncategorized

Death knocked three times…

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Once upon a time, Death knocked three times at the door of my family. It was 2002, I was a teenager, still in high school and hadn’t experienced the death of any close family members thus far in my young life. Then just before Easter that year, I came home to find my family in the throes of grief. My paternal grandmother, “Nanna” as we called her, had succumbed to death as a result of breast cancer. It came as a shock – I’d been aware she had cancer but had no idea her health had been in decline. This first, cruel intrusion of death had a big impact on my family.

A few months later, our beloved family dog Ranger, who we’d owned since I was 3 years old also died. While losing a pet is not the same as losing a grandparent, it was another taste of death, another round of grief and noticeable, daily absence from family life.

Another few months passed and my maternal grandfather, “Granddad” passed away from a coronary episode. I knew him better than my Nanna, as he had lived much closer to us and I’d spent much more time with him growing up. This was in many ways the biggest personal loss of the year – the death of the most important male figure in my life after my father – but by that stage I was well fatigued from all the grief and mourning and found it difficult to express my sorrow with my emotions so drained.

That was when death knocked three times – by far the darkest season of my life with the greatest sense of loss I’d experienced. But unbeknownst to me, death would knock three times in a short space of time once again, many years later.

Towards the end of 2014, I found out simultaneously that I had fathered a child and that the child was in all probability already dead. It was a shocking experience, as I only had limited, rather removed, second-hand knowledge of miscarriages and a child dying long before it was due to be born. There will always be a sense of sadness for the loss of the baby who would have been approaching his or her first birthday around now, had they continued to grow and develop healthily within their mother’s womb.

A year ago today, my maternal grandmother, “Grandma” passed away a few days after her 92nd birthday. Although her death at that age was by no means unexpected, it still had a profound sense of grief attached to it, as she was the grandparent I had the closest attachment to out of all four. She had been part of my life, almost weekly, from the earliest times until well into adulthood and now suddenly she was gone. I wished I had seen the signs more clearly at the time and recognised that she was in fact about to die – but she had come back from poor health so many times before that it was too difficult to discern whether another comeback was around the corner instead of deterioration to death.

Then, just three months ago, my wife’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. The way she died and the way we found out about it were both quite traumatic. There remains to this day, things we will probably never know about what led to the circumstances surrounding her death. It has affected me significantly as a son-in-law seeing his mother-in-law lose her life without any warning and as a husband trying to do the best to comfort and support his grieving wife who lost her mother without any warning. Once again, there is a hole in our lives because Death knocked again.

These three deaths differ in detail and are tragic in different kinds of ways. But each one has stained the last three calendar years of my life with the shock and pain of death. Once again, I find myself in a dark period, where my family has been visited too many times by that most unwelcome intruder.

Here are my reflections during this season when death has knocked three times:

1) I hate death

Death is the greatest reminder that there is something profoundly wrong with the world. As a Christian I have to acknowledge that humanity deserves to suffer at the hands of death – because our rejection of God and His goodness is so wicked and ungrateful that we all ought to be left to Death as its playthings. And yet, at the same time, death is bad. I hate what it is and what it does. I long for a world where it no longer exists. You can probably only hate death when it’s come close enough for you to stare into its wretched, ugly face. It has for me and I hate it in truth.

2) We all must face the death of loved ones – and it’s a terrible reality

Sometimes it’s hard to truly appreciate the impact that the death of a loved one has had on someone else when we see it happen to them. We’re sad for our friends, co-workers or acquaintances when we see them mourning, but often we’re sufficiently removed from the situation to not feel the power of the emotional shockwaves they’ve been hit with. But even those reading this who’ve never lost someone who was an important part of their lives will have to experience it personally one day. That’s the terrible truth that faces us when we love people in a world that’s tainted by sin and death. It’s sad because it means that in all likelihood I’ll see many more people go through what I’ve gone through in the last couple of years, before too much time passes.

At certain times it can be quite daunting when I reflect on this truth in light of other relationships in my life. One day I will have to face the death of my last living grandparent. One day my own father and mother will be the ones that die. One day I may have to say goodbye to the most precious companion I have in life – my beloved wife. I may survive a number of my friends and relatives and perhaps even some of my own children. Grimly, the only thing that will prevent me from experiencing the deaths of those I love will be if I myself die first – leaving them to experience bereavement at my passing, instead of me being left to mourn theirs.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of Death knocking several times is the part where it leaves the calling card, promising to visit again at another time.

3) Death can strike at any time (even in a technologically advanced, sanitised, first-world society)

My experiences have been a poignant reminder that death doesn’t follow a predictable schedule, it can come without warning and can strike at any time of life. The death of our unborn child was a confronting taste of Death taking away a life that had barely begun. The shock of learning of death before I even had time to appreciate that there was life, showed me precisely how abrupt Death’s intrusions into life can be. The death of my grandmother demonstrated that even when someone has been blessed with a very long life and you know they can’t go on living forever – Death can still approach like a vicious, stealthy predator – undetected until it’s too late. The death of my mother-in-law was both harrowing and surreal in the way it emerged out of nowhere – to the point where three months on it still doesn’t feel as though it should have happened. And yet it has.

In the 21st century, developed world, we’re pretty good at delaying death and preventing it from punctuating our lives quite as frequently as it did for our ancestors. We’re masters of ignoring it as we go about our lives doing hundreds of things that seem so important, as long as we operate on the assumption that we and everyone we love will still be here tomorrow. Yet Death is the star of the nightly news almost without fail – reminding us that it’s out there and warning us that it could visit our home anytime, just like it did for those poor people all the way out there in a distant land.

4) Caring for the vulnerable

The three deaths I’ve been describing make me want to reinforce the value of caring for the vulnerable – especially those who are particularly vulnerable to death. My child’s unexplained death in the womb helps me appreciate how precious the lives of all unborn children are. We should mourn their deaths and strive to protect these most vulnerable members of the human race.

Grandma’s death from old age tells the story of those who are vulnerable to death at the other end of the human lifespan: the elderly. Older members of our families and communities are precious – that’s why we grieve when they are taken from us. We should care for them and treasure them while they remain among us.

My mother-in-law’s death is still shrouded in uncertainty, but it seems most likely that it came about as a result of the mental illness she was cruelly afflicted with for many years. Those who suffer from different kinds of mental illness are often vulnerable to death in their own way. They are precious and in need of our care and love too. We may not be able to do anything to stop death from taking them from us – as has been the case for us. But we can enrich their lives and they ours, for as long as God permits us to remain in one another’s lives.

5) Jesus knocks death on the head for me (more than three times!)

Perhaps the only real source of comfort when Death knocks multiple times is the fact that Jesus has knocked death on the head for me and will do so again in the future.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the sin in my life which brings the sentence of death upon me has been dealt with; life has triumphed over death; the fatal blow that will kill Death itself has been inflicted. Even though death still takes lives every day – the age of death is now coming to a close. The coming, Eternal Age of Life has begun to swallow it up.

Because God has kindly allowed me to hear and believe the gospel – I have passed from death to life. I have died with Christ in his death, I live with Him in His resurrection. Through the Holy Spirit’s gracious application of Christ’s work to my soul, Jesus has knocked death on the head for me personally and I’ll never experience the eternal death I deserve.

Because Christ will draw me to Himself when I die, He’ll knock death on the head when it attempts to imprison my soul in darkness without hope to await judgement. Though my body will die, this will simply be the transition that commences my enjoyment of Jesus in a heavenly state that is free of sin, corruption, distraction and misery. Remembering this truth empowers me to face death without fearing its power to deprive me of the things I love in life.

Because Christ will raise my body again and unite it with my soul to live forever at His coming, He will have knocked Death on the head definitively by reversing fully its effects. But this will be the ultimate Death of Death, when the Age of Life is fully ushered in and Death is judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire as a sign of final judgement. Millions will be raised to life. Creation will be renewed. Death will burn forever, while Life reigns.

I know Death will knock again. It will once again be painful to endure when it does. But thanks be to God that Jesus dealt death its own fatal blow and will give it a knock so hard it that it will never come back again.

[1] Delete “Death” (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Star Wars and Hebrews

Around the 20th anniversary of the original Star Wars film (1997), a special edition was released that reinvigorated interest in the franchise. Two years later the prequel trilogy launched with The Phantom Menace – enchanting a new generation of fans and aggravating a legion of purists who loved the originals. With yet another trilogy upon us, I was intrigued by the following excerpt from a John Piper sermon on Hebrews, from around the time of the special edition release:

          Star Wars and Hebrews

I want to make sure as we begin this message that you know the difference between Star Wars and the book of Hebrews. For many today there is no significant difference. That is, both are myths. And a myth is a story (it need not be true in the sense that it really happened), a story that provides symbols for interpreting the world. You don’t need Truth, with a capital T. You only need a symbolic system to help you order your world. Now this may sound like fancy academic talk that comes from a philosophy class or a class in advanced linguistic anthropology. But it’s not. It’s straight out of yesterday’s newspaper about the new release of Star Wars and the meaning it has for kids.

Here’s a key sentence: “For some pre-adolescent boys, Star Wars . . . functions as a kind of religion, giving them spiritual nourishment and opening the door to questions of redemption, forgiveness and morality, sometimes more potently than their formal religious upbringing ever has. They’re finding their myths in an unexpected place” (StarTribune, 2/1/97, p. B5).

Now what interests me in this sentence is not that Star Wars is a kind of religion for some kids. Nor even that for some it seems more exciting than what they learned in Sunday School. (That can easily be accounted for by the difference between computer-enhanced cinematography and flannelgraph.)

Myth or Truth?

What interests me is the assumption of the writer that finding your religion is like choosing among many myths. “They are finding their myths in an unexpected place.” And the question is not one of ultimate Truth, but rather of what story or symbolic system works for you. You can find your myth in the Biblical story of creation by a sovereign God, incarnation of a real personal Son of God, redemption by the real shed blood of Christ and by his resurrection, and faith in this Truth. Or you can find your myth in the story of Star Wars. The issue today, inside the philosophy class and inside the movie theater, is not usually Truth, but rather finding a satisfying myth, a story that helps you interpret the world, to make it livable and, if possible, enjoyable.

So the article quotes one professor who compares not only Star Wars, but TV in general, to religion and says, “It does what religion does: provides a symbolic system through which you interpret the world.” That’s all religion is for many people: “a symbolic system” a cluster of metaphors and narratives and experiences that touch you deeply and help you make some sense of your life. Truth is simply a non-issue.

If that kind of thinking were confined to a few scholarly books or a few advanced classes, I would not bring it in here. But since I know it is simply in the air we breathe, I think you need to put it before you and realize that as you read this text, and as I preach this message, neither the writer of this book [Hebrews]  nor the preacher of this sermon thinks that way. We are not offering you another possible myth you can choose from to help your life go better. The writer of this book and the preacher of this message aim to describe real persons and historical events and divine intentions that really happened in history. And we aim to reveal an unseen heavenly realm above history that is more real than all we see and touch in this life. This story is more real and more exciting and more terrifying and more life-changing than Star Wars will ever be, no matter how many enhancements they make. And I urge you, in the name of God, to hear the strangeness of this text as the strangeness of Reality, not as the strangeness of an unreal truth.

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-christ-did-at-the-end-of-the-age

As “the Force awakens”, Piper’s juxtaposition between a great and engaging epic story like the Star Wars and a biblical testimony about Jesus like Hebrews, is a good reminder that many people need to “wake up” when it comes to the Truth that undergirds our existence and provides us with substantial purpose in our lives.

Star Wars VII will undoubtedly capture the imagination of a new generation, dazzle us with its amazing special effects and add to the mythos of the canonical universe of Star Wars fiction (which, one could be forgiven for thinking, is already of galactic proportions). And apart from a handful of the old school purists who are no doubt waiting with stones-in-hand to pelt the Disney heretics for further corrupting the sacred majesty of the original trilogy, most of us will enjoy it for what it is – a really captivating saga.

But we all need something better than an epic story to base our lives upon. Many people around the world need the wake-up call of the gospel so that they can see God and the universe He made as they really are, through Jesus Christ. And many sleepy Christians need to be awakened by the stunning truths of the gospel we may have begun to yawn at. We have the greatest story ever told – one that you can justly base your entire life upon. Because it’s real and has universal and eternal implications for everyone. And we don’t need a multi-million budget to present it to the world and maybe even see someone stunned and amazed by it’s brilliance. We just need to start with that neighbour, friend or Christian brother or sister who needs to be awoken or reawakened to the glories of Jesus Christ.

“God isn’t fixing this” – Breaking down the headline

In the US, in the wake of the tragic San Bernandino shootings, the Daily News has gained significant attention from its headline “God isn’t fixing this” accompanied by various tweets by conservative politicians referring to prayer for the victims’ families.
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The argument goes that it is “meaningless platitudes” to call for a religious response to the tragedy when these very men could take steps towards launching a political response that dealt with the perennial issue of gun control. Why pray to God for help when you can do something about the problem? God clearly isn’t doing anything to resolve the issue of gun violence, so politicians should take responsibility and do something instead of just praying.

The issues at play in America are not directly relevant to us in our part of the world, but in a globalised society, these matters, along with the commentary and headlines, will be discussed and debated to some extent here. So I wanted to look at where this headline gets it right and where it misses something very significant.

Where they get it right

1. If by “God isn’t fixing this” the editors of Daily News mean that God will not miraculously intervene to stop future gun violence from happening – they’re probably right. I’d be willing to bet that more events like this week’s shooting will take place in the United States in years to come. There will be times where God won’t miraculously prevent these events from happening by jamming the weapons, causing the perpetrators to be foiled or discovered, or appearing to the would-be killer in a terrifying, life-changing dream. This is because God does allow evil and suffering to exist in this fallen world that is tainted by humanity’s sin.

The reason He doesn’t prevent every disaster that could happen from taking place is because He’s allowing humanity to face the consequences of living in a society that rejects divine authority and rule and attempts to take power into the hands of the individual, tribe, party or army, as we see fit. So yes, there is a sense in which it is true that God isn’t going to deal with gun violence by reducing people’s capacity to do evil or their access to weapons in the same way a legislature might be expected to act.

2. When it comes to the question of whether it is hypocritical to appeal to God to resolve something we’ve been given responsibility to do something about – the criticism could be valid. James 2:15-16 says: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? It is a hollow or hypocritical faith that expresses warm sentiment, or even prayer or blessing towards someone in need, when it lies within one’s power to alleviate the problem they are facing.
If we say to a poor person “I’ll be praying for you to find food and shelter” when we have the means to help them with these problems, something is very wrong. So if politicians are praying for people whose problems have arisen as a result of the policies the politicians have supported, or because the politicians have failed to regulate to keep them safe – they could be susceptible to criticism that they are spiritualising an issue they are responsible for resolving themselves (and therefore if they are to ask God for help, it should be that He would help them do what they need to do). However…

Where the headline misses something important

1. The politicians in question are not specifically praying regarding gun control, but for the comfort and well-being of those affected by the attacks. While they may have a case to answer for their alleged inaction on gun control (an issue I won’t be delving into any further here), it needs to be recognised that they are arguably praying with respect to something they have no capacity to address. A handsome, well-dressed, silver-tongued politician cannot bring deep healing and comfort to those who have been terrified, wounded, maimed or bereaved by a horrific gun attack. And even people with a vague notion that there might be a God or Higher Power often recognise in times when loved ones face a critical health situation that prayer for divine assistance or even miraculous healing is well worth giving a go. People who have a consistent, active commitment to faith in an omnipotent and merciful God should not be unfairly castigated for praying in a situation where only such a Being can be relied upon to provide emotional restoration and even physical salvation from life-threatening injuries.

2. Most importantly, “God isn’t fixing this” is a half-truth at best, because God is in fact fixing the issues behind gun violence, terrorism and a whole host of other evils, in a way that U.S. Congress, law enforcement and counter-terrorism could not begin to imitate.

God is dealing with the evil in the world that manifested itself through Syed Farook and Tashfik Malik and He’s going about it in such a way that will soon see it removed forever.
Death and suffering are part of the curse we all face for our membership of a race in rebellion against the Lord and Giver of Life. While we don’t know all the intricacies behind why evil exists, Christians can be confident that God’s justice and mercy are both perfectly displayed as He unfolds His plan to defeat evil, death and destruction forever through the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ.

Christ died on the cross in response to the great evil and rebellion in world. He bore the punishment for sin on Himself so that God’s justice and mercy might both be displayed.
So that many who are not only victims of great evil, but guilty of evil themselves, might have a way of escape when God judges all evildoers throughout history. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead points to a future where death is no more for God’s children, because the evils of the world that lead to death have been dealt with and vanquished.

And when Jesus returns in glory and power, God promises to judge the world in righteousness through Him. All who have trusted in Jesus and had the wickedness of their rebellion forgiven will experience eternal life and live under God’s rule where no evil thing shall ever bother or harm them again. But all who appear before God’s judgement seat clothed in their own wickedness will face eternal condemnation, as part of God’s plan to renew creation and put the world right.

God IS fixing this – if by “this” we mean the evil behind this tragedy and others. Perhaps the right prayer for Christians in response is the short, but powerful “Maranatha” – “Come Lord Jesus,” “Come quickly.”

No mistake – we’re at war (Pt. 3)

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Before reading please check out the two previous posts (here and here), which give the relevant background. 

We’ve seen that Christians in Australia are in a state of war. Spiritually, we’re called to constantly resist the evil one through the resources God has given us, notably prayer and the gospel (and especially prayer for the gospel, see Eph 6:18-20). People of whatever political or religious alignment are not our true enemies, but the spiritual forces behind them. And we do not wage our warfare as Christians through physical violence.

Yet, politically, we live in a nation-state that is engaged in physical military combat with an armed, flesh and blood enemy force. As citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, we can say that the artists-fraudulently-known-as Islamic State are our country’s enemies. We can even go further and say that their actions have made them enemies of humanity – the foes of any person or people who have not ingested their vile, poisonous and extreme form of ideology.

There are plenty of ways in which we need to keep our spiritual enemies and our country’s enemies in separate categories. As I’ve already explained, the Christian’s real enemy will always be the spiritual forces behind the extremists. The Church’s priority should be wrestling “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” without getting distracted by perceived human enemies. The State’s priority should be fighting legitimate combat operations against hostile elements that threaten peace, security and stability – yet it is powerless to stop the spiritual forces behind them.

But is there a meeting point between these two aspects of warfare we find ourselves touched by? I want to propose that there is.

In the last post I suggested we pray: “for the decline of radicalised Islam as a spiritual evil in our community and around the world – that it would lose its grip on the hearts and minds of those it controls.” That is part of our responsibility as Christians: it’s appealing to God to address the spiritual evil behind the physical atrocities and injustice. Better yet, we can pray that our Heavenly Father’s name would be hallowed in Iraq and Syria and His Kingdom would come there and His will be done there as it is in Heaven. Islam, particularly this form of it, is a demonic tool to keep people made in God’s image bound under spiritually oppressive control. Only God’s rule coming through the gospel can replace that – otherwise we may see something not unlike Jesus’ description in Luke 11:24-26 come to pass in these countries.

But we should not only pray for the fall of radicalised Islam and the triumph of the gospel. I believe we should be praying for the military defeat of ISIS and all its affiliated groups. I do not say this out of malice towards a particular race or creed, but because of my conviction that this abominable destroyer of children, women, the elderly, the marginalised, Yazidis, non-compliant Muslims and Christians must neither be allowed to continue perpetrating its hideous attacks on innocent people, nor given any further opportunity to indulge in the delusion of a caliphate or state by holding onto the territory it has captured.

We should pray for the success of the Australian military and their allies and for our leaders to have the courage, conviction and tenacity to do whatever is necessary to stop this wickedness from terrorising the region.
We should pray not out of blind support or fervent patriotic pride, but out of compassion for those who have been butchered, raped, assaulted and subjugated to the barbaric rule of the monstrously inhumane fanatics that have conquered the land of thousands of people. We should pray not out of a bloodthirsty desire to see our enemies shot and blown to pieces, but out of a thirst for justice and a demand that the blood of the weak would no longer be spilled.

And we should pray that ISIS can be stopped and rendered inoperable with as little loss of life possible – especially the lives of non-combatant Iraqi and Syrian civilians, and our own military forces that are acting to protect them. My greatest hope is that many of the young men involved with ISIS will become disillusioned with Islam and begin to disband, so that its power disintegrates. As a Christian, I’m not adverse to the idea of those guilty of bloodshed facing justice for their crimes in this life, whether on the battlefield or in the courtroom. But I do hope that God in His mercy might prolong the lives of many guilty jihadists that they might have an opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the gospel and repent of their sins to gain eternal life in Christ.

Of course this brings us to the heart of the contentious issue at hand: to pray for mercy (i.e. the mass conversion of ISIS militants) or pray for justice (i.e. the mass defeat of ISIS militants)? That is the question.

Because both are so important, I think our prayer must simply be for God to act. For surely like God we must take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) and desire all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). But with the Psalmist we must ask God to break the arm of the wicked, call them to account, help the afflicted, fatherless and oppressed and end the reign of terror by evil men (Psalm 10:15-18) and with the martyrs we must long for the day when God avenges the blood of the innocent and righteous upon the wicked (Rev 6:10) – even if that day is someway off.

The Sovereign God is able to show mercy to whom He wishes to show mercy, while leaving others to face justice for their sins against Him – either now or at the day of judgement. So let us pray for Him to act, trusting that He will save many of the perpetrators and victims of the crimes against Heaven and humanity that are occurring in Iraq and Syria, through the cross of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But at the same time allowing for Him to display His justice in this world by destroying the lives of those who continue to rebel against Him despite His daily long-suffering and kindness towards them.

It may be a hard reality to live with. But then war tends to have that effect…

No mistake – we’re at war (Pt. 2)

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Following on from the previous post, which you can read here – how should we respond to what transpired in Paris this month, as people who recognise we’re involved in a spiritual war, while our country is caught up in a military conflict with a very wicked organisation?

Here are some of the things I’d invite you to join me in praying:

We need to pray for our own hearts – that we wouldn’t be corrupted by fear, prejudice or just plain apathy in response to the things that are occurring in our community and in our world. Much of the spiritual war we’re involved in concerns the struggle for control of our hearts and minds and those of our brothers and sisters in the family of God.

We need to pray for those who have lost their loved ones – that they would find true comfort and restoration in the loving arms of Christ and that God may bring good to them out of this horrific evil. May we pray the same for the hostages that survived as they seek to recover from trauma and injuries they may have occurred as a result of the siege.

We need to pray for the decline of radicalised Islam as a spiritual evil in our community and around the world – that it would lose its grip on the hearts and minds of those it controls.

We need to pray against the spiritual evil of racism and religious vilification that simmers below the surface of respectable society in our nation. Pray that God would keep our Muslim neighbours safe and protected by the authorities and their fellow citizens now and into the future. And pray that you and I would have the courage to confront outbursts or violence related to race or religion if we see it taking place in public.

Pray for the police, intelligence agencies and others who work tirelessly to protect their fellow citizens.

Pray that world leaders would act wisely in their ongoing response to the situation. [Not only the military/counter-terrorism aspect, but also the humanitarian/refugee crisis etc;].

Pray that this Christmas more people would grasp the angels’ message of “Peace on Earth and goodwill to men” – because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And pray that we would be willing to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in our community by sharing the hope we have in Christ with people from all religious and ethnic backgrounds.

There is also a junction where the two wars I’ve talked about intersect and I’d like to share my thoughts on that with you in one final post over the next few days…We’ll look at how knowing about our involvement in a spiritual war and seeing what happened in Paris this month and Sydney last year, might lead us to pray in a certain way about the current situation with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

But for now, let’s be aware there’s a war raging all around us. And let us respond to the call to action and fight the evil in this world by praying, loving our neighbours and proclaiming the good news of Jesus that shines like a light in the darkness around us.

[1] Jordi Bernabeu Farrus  “Tercer premi en la categoria Individual de Notícies d’Actualitat al World Press Photo. BULENT KILIC / AFP” (CC BY 2.0) Flickr.

No mistake – we’re at war (Pt. 1)

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The recent attacks in Paris have again got Christians talking about an appropriate response to the separate, yet related matters of terrorism/extremism, Islam as a religion and Muslims as people and neighbours. Over the next few weeks, I plan to publish several posts that interact with these issues. I originally published the first two parts of this series of posts 11 months ago, immediately following the “Sydney Siege”, on the website of the church I was co-pastoring. I thought it might be beneficial to revisit some of these themes in light of what’s been happening in Paris and around the world since that event… 

While the outcome of the crisis that ended at Martin Place in Sydney yesterday could have undoubtedly been much worse than it was – it marks the day that the extremist violence of the kind we’ve witnessed so much around the world since September 11, 2001 has finally violated the sacredness of human life and public safety on Australian soil. [Likewise Paris has reminded us once again how destructive these attacks can be].

It also serves as a clear and sharp reminder to us all that we are at war.

Around 9/11, I heard people talk ignorantly of waging “a war against Muslims.” Rest assured, that’s not what I’m talking about. God forbid that we should ever be involved in or condone an armed conflict or persecution against any general population of a particular religion. It’s critical that we heed the calls to show kindness and support to our Muslim neighbours during this sensitive time and denounce any show of violence or hatred towards them.

But it’s also critical that we recognise that we are nonetheless involved in a war and that maybe we’re more involved than we’d like to be.

One one level, Australia [along with France and other Western nations] is effectively engaged in warfare against a pernicious militant group known as ISIS or Islamic State. While the actions of Man Haron Monis did not represent the sentiments and intentions of the mainstream Islamic community in Australia [likewise regarding the actions of the terrorists in France], they seem to have had a lot to do with the conflict against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

While the exact motives behind the attack are not currently known, it is clear that Monis wished to identify himself and his actions with ISIS and thus it is fairly safe to conclude that part of the message he wished to send our nation and the world was ISIS-related. The attack happened in the context of our government’s decision to send military assistance to those in Iraq who are resisting the brutal advances of this atrocious group that slaughters those who do not agree with its extreme interpretations of Islamic religion.

But for Christians, this tragic event is a reminder of the war you and I are caught up in every day of our lives in this world: the spiritual battle being waged amongst humanity in unseen realms without pause. Our struggle, we’re told, is not against the visible, human perpetrators of conflict, hatred and violence but against the invisible influences that drive and enable much of the wickedness we see in the world. “…against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12b). Our weapons are never the physical blades and bullets used to destroy human bodies but are spiritual weapons, for a spiritual war (see 2 Cor 10:4-5, 2 Cor 6:7, Eph 6:13-18) – not for harming people but for attacking the very things that harm their souls.

What happened in Sydney [and now in Paris] was driven by spiritual forces of evil. It robbed people of their lives and families of their loved ones. It disturbed public order and spread fear through the community. It has incited more extremism – providing fertile ground for anti-Islamic sentiments and copycat or retaliatory attacks by radicalised people in the community. All of this is evil and the work of our true enemy the devil.

So how do we respond to events such as this, as those who are aware of our involvement in a cosmic struggle between spiritual forces of good and evil that is affecting the lives of every single human being in our society?

The most important thing we can do in this situation is to use our God-given spiritual weapons – prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel to the world.

How can we do this? Firstly, I’d invite you to do some reflection of your own and pray in response, but tomorrow I’ll share some suggestions for how we can pray and act in a way that takes this situation of war we’re in seriously.

[1] Image credit: Flickr user: Devar “RAAF Airshow: Counter Terrorism Response Group” CC BY-NC-ND 2.0