What an amazing week we have had! Some of you will remember the feelings of fear that occurred when World War II broke out. I remember the fear that came when the air raid sirens sounded in Winnipeg when the Cuban crisis occurred in 1961. Anyone my age or a little younger will remember exactly where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. The FLQ crisis was quite unsettling. A great sadness came over us during the Gulf war. But I do not think that any of these events are as horrible or as frightening as what happened this week. The bold attack on innocent citizens, the sheer number of people killed or injured, the massive destruction and the world wide disruption that occurred are unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetime.
Furthermore, it hits much closer to home than anything we have experienced before. When these kinds of tragedies occur in far away countries, it is one thing, but when it is our neighbours and when Canada itself is impacted and when I personally think that I was in Washington this summer, it really does hit close to home.
At a time like this many feelings arise within us and many thoughts are expressed. At a time like this, we need a word from God which helps us to know what to think and how to react to what has happened. God has spoken in His Word and has something to say to us today and I would like to point to several passages of Scripture which I believe are His word to us today.
I. Handling Our Feelings
There are a lot of feelings which surface at this time. We feel grief and horror at what has happened. We sorrow for those who have lost loved ones. We have already heard heart wrenching stories coming out of these events. We have heard of people calling home on their cell phone telling their spouse or parents that they were about to die. We have heard from the policemen and firemen who are looking for their friends in the rubble. We have felt the fear at recognizing that all the defence systems of the United States are not impregnable. We have sympathized with the feelings of hatred towards those who have done these things. How do we deal with all of these feelings?
The Psalms are wonderful at this time. One of the most encouraging things I have discovered as I have studied the psalms is the open way in which the writers of the Psalms express the things that they are feeling. Whether it is my race, my upbringing or my personality, I am more comfortable hiding the things that I feel but there is nothing wrong with expressing the things which we feel and acknowledging that those feelings are there. Whether we do that by crying, talking, meditating or whatever method we use, it is appropriate to give expression.
This morning, I would like to look at a few passages of Scripture that will, I hope, help us direct those feelings appropriately.
A. Allow the Grief
First of all, it is alright for us to feel and acknowledge the sorrow and grief that we feel. Psalm 31:9,10 is one of many expressions of such feelings. We read, “Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.” Notice the expressive language which is very open about the sorrow which the Psalmist experiences. He uses the words distress, sorrow, grief, anguish, groaning and affliction. All of these words describe what many people, including ourselves have been experiencing this week.
MCC sent out a call for prayer in our churches and included in that call was a recognition of all the grief that we are feeling. They write, “We grieve for individuals killed or wounded in the attacks, for people who have lost family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours, for those whose loved ones are as yet unaccounted for, for those who will live with ongoing emotional trauma and for emergency workers and all others whose energies will have been taxed to the extreme.”
I spoke with two people this week who work in Winnipeg and they told me that it had been impossible for them to work on Tuesday. That is an expression of the line in verse 10 “my strength fails.” How much more that must be true for those who are in the midst of these things.
As we read Psalm 31, however, there is an important thing that we need to take note of and that is the direction of the expression of grief. The Psalmist expresses these feelings to God. He prays for mercy. He addresses his concerns to the Lord. I think that this is a wise word for us. At this time, I would like to invite us to take a moment of silence to express our grief and sorrow and to pray to God about the grief and sorrow of all those who are closest to the situation. Let us take a moment of silent prayer as we express our grief to God.
B. Recognize the Fear
Another emotion that will have been present with us at this time is fear. The same MCC letter that I mentioned earlier gave a list of things that we might fear. They wrote, “We are fearful that there may be further violence and counter-violence that whole groups of people may be scapegoated for the actions of a few and that suddenly the world seems a much less safe place.”
Psalm 55:4-8 expresses these feelings of fear. “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest— I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
Once again, we can see that it is alright to express and recognize that these events are not comfortable events. There are things that have happened which destroy all the confidence and security which we might have in this world and in the structure of this world. Although we recognize that the peace and safety we live with are in some ways an exception in this world, we have gotten used to it and to have it shaken is a terrifying experience. We can express these feelings of fear.
But I have to tell you something about what happened when I was looking for these verses on fear. I had to look for a while. Most of the verses on fear in the Bible give us another direction, a direction which we have every reason to take. We need to take note of verses like Psalm 3:5,6, “because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” and John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
So as we acknowledge and even express our fears to the Lord, I know that what we will find is that God sustains us in those fears and we can cling to Him and find peace in Him.
C. Reject the Hatred
A third thing that we may feel is anger. In the MCC document they wrote, “We are angered by those who planned and carried out these devastating attacks and by those who hold such low regard for the human life that you have created.” Such anger is appropriate because what was done is very wrong. It is one thing to attack a military installation, but to use innocent people on an airplane as a weapon to attack innocent people working in a building is completely evil. As we feel this anger, however, we need to be very careful.
We need to be careful that we do not broadcast our anger against innocent people. To hate Muslims or people of Arab descent just because it may have been Muslims or Arab people who planned and carried out the attack is wrong. The fear that Muslim families even in Winnipeg are feeling at this time is not right. We should not in any way allow our anger to turn into hatred of those who are innocent.
However, even more challenging, this is a time for us to really learn what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” The wounds may be a little fresh yet and it may be hard for us to really grasp how we can do that, but I think that we should recognize that this is the direction that our thinking should take us as Christians as we continue to process the feelings which we are dealing with.
Some of the ways in which we can express these things is to follow the thoughts sent to us by MCC. They encourage us to pray “that U.S. leaders may exercise restraint and caution in any response, that all groups who resort to violent means may turn from their ways and that we ourselves may witness more faithfully and boldly” to the good news of Jesus.
II. God’s Is Sovereign
As we deal with these feelings, there is an underlying truth that we need to be reminded of that will help us do these things. Finding hope in the midst of grief, finding peace in the midst of fears and being able to respond with the radical act of loving our enemies is possible only because of the underlying truth that God is Lord.
At times like this, we may wonder where God is and although we may never understand why these things happened and why God permitted them, it is only as we come to the place where we trust God no matter what that we will find that peace and hope.
Psalm 27:1-14 helps us to think in that direction and I would invite you to listen as I read it.
The circumstances which give rise to this Psalm have many parallel thoughts to what we have experienced. In verse 2 he speaks about “evil men advance against me” and “enemies and foes attack me.” Verse 3 gives other images, “an army besiege me” and “war break out against me.” Perhaps it would not be wrong to say that what the Psalmist writes about is even worse and certainly much more personally experienced than what we have experienced, yet there are similarities.
How does the Psalmist write about his faith in God in the midst of his enemies? He says with confidence, “The Lord is my light and my salvation...the Lord is the stronghold of my life…” One writer indicates that this speaks about “the absolute certainty that banishes fear, regardless of the dimensions of the threat.” Has God lost control? Not at all. He knows about what has happened. He knows every person who perished. He knows the evil men who did these things and He is still the sovereign Lord. He has created the world and all that is in it. He has demonstrated his sovereignty in Christ’s victory on the cross and in the resurrection. He sits as Lord over all of creation.
There is an important lesson for us. Several times I have thought about how insecure I feel now that the American protection system has been breeched. If this has taught us anything it is that they are not able to defend against every possibility. This time, the military and even the intelligence service could not prevent it. That should teach us that our hope of salvation is always God. The true place of safety is not in anything external, but in the God who is Lord of all.
The Psalmist goes on in verses 4-6 to talk about the strategy that will allow us to face enemies and to face the fears we may have with the same peace as he has and that is to live our lives in a relationship with the Lord in which we are always seeking Him. If our life is one lived with the longing of the Psalmist to “dwell in the house of the Lord, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord,” “to seek Him in his temple” then we will also find that in the day of trouble, as he says in verse 5, we will find that he will keep us safe. If we live in dependence on Him then we will also rest in Him in the midst of crisis. It is in such a relationship that we will find the peace, hope and compassion needed to face whatever enemies may arise against us.
In the conclusion of the Psalm after continuing to express his confidence in the Lord he speaks a word which is a good word for us today. He says in verse 14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” As we fear, grieve and deal with anger, let us also wait for the Lord and recognize his sovereign power and majesty.
III. God’s Plan For The Future
Another of the questions which will arise is the question about how this fits in with God’s plan for the end of the world. I know that people have been asking this question. We wonder about these things and would like to know exactly how these things fit in with the end times. I want to tell you this morning that these events are mentioned in predictions about the end times. The passage that contains them is Matthew 24:1- 14. Let me read this passage.
The teaching that occurs here happened at a time when the disciples were admiring the temple in Jerusalem. It was apparently a magnificent temple which drew attention from a long way around. It was seen by many of the Jews as a solid indication of God’s presence and of the soundness of the faith of the Jews. When Jesus predicted the destruction of this very temple, it must have been a very shocking experience. When it actually happened in 70 AD, it must have been devastating. It was a ‘world is falling apart” statement for anyone who had a hope in Jerusalem.
Jesus used this teaching to warn his disciples about what was going to happen in the process of bringing about the end of the age. In the verses that follow, he mentions a number of other devastating events that will happen before Jesus comes. He speaks about false Christ’s, wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, famines and earthquakes. It is in these verses that we find mention of the events that happened this week. There we read in verse 6, “you will hear of wars and rumours of wars” and in verse 7, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” What happened this week was predicted by Jesus long ago.
But how do these events fit into the plan of the end of the times? Jesus also answers that question when he says in verse 6, “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Then in verse 8 he says, “All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” That teaches us an important truth. Since the time that Jesus left the earth, these things have been happening. They will continue to happen until Jesus comes again. They are an indication of the end times in that they point to the disruption of peace on the earth and remind us that this earth is not the final kingdom.
We also have several things that we need to note as we think about this truth.
First of all, we need to take careful note of what Jesus says in verse 6. “See to it that you are not alarmed.” Jesus warns, “Be careful not to be deceived.” One writer says, “disciples should not mistake cataclysmic events…as indications that the end of the age was upon them.”
We do not need to fear that something out of the control of God is happening or that all things have suddenly fallen apart. Some may wonder where God’s control is over the world when such terrible things happen, but when we read this, we realize that God knows about these things and the possibility of their happening is spoken of by Him. That gives us peace about the end times and about God’s control in the world.
In the midst of the turmoil, we have been pleased to hear how there has been a call for prayer from the president of the USA and others. If this will bring about a return to God that is a wonderful thing and we need to pray that that is what it will do. Already I have heard about people who have made steps back towards God because of what has happened. But Jesus warns that many people in the midst of these kinds of devastations will respond in just the opposite way. In verse 12 it says, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” We need to pray that many will come back to God at this time. We need to make sure that we do not allow fear and doubt to overwhelm us, but to turn to God in this time and strengthen our relationship with him. In the parable of the Ten Virgins in chapter 25, we have a warning along this same line which lets us know that because we do not know the time of Christ’s return, we need to be ready at all times. Events such as have happened this week reinforce the urgency of such readiness. If you are not ready, I invite you to confess your sins, accept God’s forgiveness and invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life. If you do that, you will find abundant and eternal life.
The third response arises in verse 14 and is spoken about again in chapter 25. “The gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world…” This reminds us that while we are still alive, our task is one of making Jesus known. When we are brought to attention like we have been this week, we know that we have a very important task to do and we need to be busy with it.
In some ways it is true that nothing will ever be the same. Certainly airline travel will be changed, and there are many other changes which will take place which we do not know about yet. God, however, does not change and his plan and purpose is not changed by what has happened. Therefore, we need to continue to live as people of hope and as people actively engaged in helping others come to know Christ.
My prayer is that as we deal with our fear, grief, and anger that we will find peace in God and be a light of peace and compassion in a world that is hurting.