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Our Nation in Crisis; Our God still a Refuge–

(An article appeared in the SMORGASBORD section, November 2001, entitled “Retaliation.” The author, Pastor Wayne Eichstadt of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Mankato, Minnesota, went on to write a number of bulletin articles on Christian perspectives connected with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This second article was also part of the radio broadcast, Immanuel Meditations, the morning of September 16. — Editor)

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On September 11, 2001 America watched in horror to see fellow citizens dying in the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. Many of us spent hours watching the same scenes over and over, staring at the television screen in disbelief, all the while somehow hoping that in the next replay the ending would change, or that we would wake up from an awful dream. The ending did not change, nor did we wake up from a nightmare, because the four hijacked planes and all of the subsequent destruction were very real.

Such an act of wickedness which we have witnessed brings with it many questions. A question that has undoubtedly been raised in nearly everyone’s mind is: “How could anyone do this?! What kind of hate and wickedness could so abound in anyone’s heart that it would move him to intentionally kill so many and destroy so much? From where could such atrocity arise?”

Soberingly, sadly, we find the answer to the question: the fertile bed from which sin grows is our own hearts. Jesus said, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 12:21-22).

The wickedness which we have beheld is the fruit of sin–the same sin which lies in each of our own sinful natures–sinful natures with which we are born and from which only Christ Jesus, our Savior, can rescue us. While none of us would ever conceive of carrying out such horrendous deeds as we have witnessed, yet the sin that produced those deeds is alive in our own hearts as well. Our sin may not bear an equally outwardly destructive fruit, but sin is sin; and even the hidden ones in our hearts–the sins no else sees, and which have no effect on anyone else–these sins are equally offensive before a just God.

So it is that whenever we see evil running rampant in our world with all of its destruction and fear, we can rightly take account of our own hearts and find need for repentance. In each disaster that claims lives we can hear the warnings to our own sinful flesh, showing us the temporary nature of all things earthly; the fragility of all things human; the need for a salvation which only Jesus Christ, our Savior, can give.

Our nation has been hit hard by evil, and we now rally around each other as Americans; but Oh! that the citizens of our country would rally around the truth of God’s Word, see their sins, and repent!

When the people of Old Testament Israel were attacked by their enemies and taken into captivity, it was because they had forsaken the true God.

In a similar way the prophet Daniel prayed, “‘ . . . We have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face . . . to our kings, our princes, our fathers, because we have sinned against You. . . . We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. . . . O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act!'” (Daniel 9:4ff)

Quite different from the news of destruction this past week has been the news of heroes–of those risking their own lives to save others: the many firemen and policemen who went into the line of duty in order to aid their fellow citizens and in the process lost their own lives; the passengers of the fourth plane who took it upon themselves to foil the hijackers’ plan; and the many workers who have searched heaps of rubble for those who might still be living–and now work on to recover the bodies of those who have died. These individuals are certainly worthy of our admiration and thanks for their courage and willingness to serve in this way.

These people are heroes, and yet they are limited, for they are able only to rescue earthly lives from earthly destruction. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for His friends. . . . I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 15:13; 10:11).

Even more heroic than the courageous efforts we have seen this week is the work that Jesus, the Son of God, accomplished when He died on the cross. Jesus came and lived a perfect life according to God’s Law for each one of us–it’s the perfect life which God demands from each one of us, but which none of us can give–so Jesus came, lived it for us, and gives it to us. Then Jesus went to the cross and there He endured the eternal damnation which every one of us deserves. Again, He did it for you, so that you need not perish eternally in hell. Then on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death once and for all. Through faith in Jesus we have the confidence that we too will conquer death and rise to life everlasting in heaven. John writes: ” . . . the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9).

The terrorist attacks have shaken our sense of security, but this need be true only if our security comes from men, and money, and government, and buildings, and earthly peace. No terrorist attack, no wickedness, no earthly ill of any sort can touch God nor change Him nor move Him from His promises. Yes, events such as we witnessed do instill fear and uncertainty. But in times of unrest we turn to the Word of our Lord for help and comfort–to words such as these:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

“Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:1-4).

“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:1-2,10a)

In this time of national sorrow let us go to God’s Word for direction. From God’s Word we learn to repent and find in Jesus our salvation from sin. In God’s Word we learn that He is our defense, our protector, our provider, our rock and refuge, which nothing can shake and from whom nothing can separate us. From God’s Word we learn to pray, casting all our care upon Him for He cares for us, and at the same time being sober and vigilant because our adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion seeking those whom he may devour (cf. 1 Peter 5:7-8). We learn to pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence . . . .” (1 Timothy 2:2).

The apostle Peter wrote to early Christians beset by persecution and enemies. For those Christians Peter offered the following prayer which we now offer for ourselves as well: “May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10ff).