How Should Christian's Respond in War and Tragedy?
By John Telgren
The news came shortly after we had arrived in Tulsa for the workshop. After a short time, we were able to put it out of our mind. We were with thousands of Christians from all over the world with some of the best preachers of today. We had a marvelous time singing together, being uplifted by good preaching, and catching up on the last few years of our lives with friends we had not seen in years.
But then we would go back to the motel and turn on the T.V. And there it was. We were at war. While we were enjoying ourselves, there were people dying in the brutality of war. Now donít get me wrong. Iím not saying that the thousands of brethren who went to Tulsa should have let the war hang like a cloud over their heads to the point that it darkened what was planned. Not at all. Several of the speakers made the conscious effort to pray about the war, yet not let it overshadow what we had traveled there for.
On the other hand, I am also aware that we have not always done a good job responding to crisis. Iím not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the pacifism that is so much a part of some of the history of some of our churches. Maybe we have so compartmentalized our spirituality that we have the unspoken assumption that current events and Christianity have little to nothing to do with each other. Maybe it is because in all our Western individualism, it just doesnít seem to affect us very much because it is happening "over there." Maybe we see our faith as something we do in church and among family, but not when bombs begin to fall or buildings begin to fall.
However, it does affect us, some more than others. Many have family, friends and loved ones who are or will be participating in this war head on. Even if some of us do not have family or friends that are intimately involved in it, it does and will affect us. We are not sure how it will affect us in the coming weeks and the coming years, but it will affect us. How do you respond as a disciple of Christ? How do you respond?
Okay John, what are you up to? Are you going to make a political speech or something? No. However, I do not want to continue "business as usual" by ignoring what is going on in our world. Many today have charged Christianity with being an antiquated artifact that no longer has any relevance to everyday living. Sure, it is okay if you want to be a part of a religious club. But when the missiles start flying, an ancient religion with all its rituals is really not much help.
Is this true? Is our religion really incompetent in the face of crisis? Do we have nothing to offer in a time of tragedy? Is God really irrelevant when life happens? I fear that we unintentionally communicate this to others by our response, or lack of response to tragedy. We have not always done a very good job responding to crisis, if at all.
This is ironic. We teach about sin, the effects of sin on the world, life, death, ultimate destiny, and other important life questions and answers as they are revealed in Godís word. We speak of the "Good News" and minister to those in need. Yet when it comes time to apply some of these truths in difficult times, we sometimes freeze up. So, I want to spend some time with a newspaper in one hand, and a Bible in the other.
I want to start with this. How should we as Christians respond to what we are involved in as a country?
Rely on God
First of all, we need to rely on God. That may seem so basic, even trite. We all agree with it when things are going well. However, it becomes much harder to put into practice in time of trouble. Letís look at some reasons why we should rely on God.
Isaiah 31:1-5. "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many And in horsemen because they are very strong, But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord! Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster And does not retract His words, But will arise against the house of evildoers And against the help of the workers of iniquity. Now the Egyptians are men and not God, And their horses are flesh and not spirit; So the Lord will stretch out His hand, And he who helps will stumble And he who is helped will fall, And all of them will come to an end together."
Let me ask you a question. If you were king in Israel and a ruthless army came against you in order to capture you, relocate your men women and children, and enslave them, what would you do? Would you call on your allies to help? Would you try and make as many friends as possible of other nations so they can add to your strength? That is what several of the kings of Israel had done. Could that be a problem? According to this oracle, it was a problem. But it was not because they sought help from other nations, but because they did so out of a lack of trust in Yahweh. It was because of their lack of trust in the Lord of Hosts they sought help from the nations, and did not seek help from their God.
What would their trust in foreign alliances get them? In the end, nothing. God says that their horses are flesh. He says they will stumble and fall. In other words, they cannot rely on them because they are not reliable. They are not God. Whether it is horses, tanks, B-2 bombers or stealth fighters, we cannot place our ultimate trust in them. They are the work of manís hands, not Godís
All you have to do is just take a quick review of history to see how reliable these sorts of things are. There have been many powerful nations on this earth. They include nations such as Alexander the Greatís Greece, The Roman Empire, and The Soviet Union, just to name a few. Where are these nations today? They are gone in spite of the power and might they once possessed.
So, the first reason we should rely on God is because the might of men, their military, and their machines are limited.
The second reason we should rely on God is because his might is unlimited.
Notice what the oracle goes on to say,
Is 31:4-5 "For thus says the Lord to me, "As the lion or the young lion growls over his prey, Against which a band of shepherds is called out, And he will not be terrified at their voice nor disturbed at their noise, So will the Lord of hosts come down to wage war on Mount Zion and on its hill." Like flying birds so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will protect and deliver it; He will pass over and rescue it."
Do you know what this is telling us? The Lord is my shepherd! Now, when you hear those words, "The Lord is my shepherd, what do you normally think of? The 23rd Psalm! I love the picture you get when you ready this passage in Isaiah and the 23rd Psalm together. Here in Isaiah, the Lord is our shepherd who fearlessly fights for his sheep. He is the shepherd that rescues us. He is the all-powerful Lord of Hosts who rescues us from the enemy. Now, letís turn to the 23rd Psalm.
Ps 23:1-4 "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
In Hebrew, this literally says "Even though I go through the valley of extreme darkness/ terrors of darkness, I fear no evil." This translation gives a different picture. It is not talking about someone that is dying or is about to die, but someone who is in terrible danger. Danger looms all around him in the valley. Predators loom in the rocks. Their eyes glow in the bushes as they stare at the sheep. There is no place to run the sheep is walled in. Yet, he does not fear, because his shepherd is with him. The shepherd has his rod and staff to fight off the predators. The Psalm finishes strong:
Ps 23:5-6 "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Anointing with oil was an expression of honor. It was what you did to honor a distinguished guest in your home. So, you get to be the Lordís honored guest in the presence of the enemy. Then goodness and lovingkindness will follow you. The word follow means "pursue" or "chase." Do you see the imagery? With the Lord as your shepherd, it is not the enemy that pursues and chases you all the days of your life, but goodness and lovingkindness! You get to live in the Lordís place forever! Life just doesnít get any better than that!
This is why the Psalmist writes:
Ps 118:6 The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?
Plenty! Man can kill me! Do you know what that does? It releases you from this earth. Once you die and pass on, no one on this earth can ever touch you again! You will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, as his honored guest!
SO, no matter what happens, never cease to rely on God, never cease to pray. Never cease to worship. And never cease to minister to others.
Render Godly Service and Ministry
This is my second point. First we would rely on God. Second, we should Render Godly Service.
This is where brethren fall short so many times. When tragedy comes, it is easy to find a million reasons why we shouldnít do anything to help. Satan is more than willing to provide those reasons free of charge. Some have even made it into a doctrine. Their doctrine states, "We are not authorized by scripture as a congregation to help those who are not members of the body."
So I supposed they could say, "be warmed and be filled" and do nothing more. James says in James 2 that this kind of faith is dead. It profits no one.
Do you remember the parable of the good Samaritan? (Lk 10:25)
Tragedy had struck a man traveling from Kansas City to Leavenworth one night. He had stopped along the way to get a bite to eat. Afterwards as he was getting into his car, a gang of thugs mugged and robbed him, and left him for dead in the middle of the road. They didnít kill him and bury the body to try and cover up what they had done. It was very unfortunate for this man that he was robbed and beaten. However the fortunate thing was that he was left right in the middle of the road. Sooner or later someone would come along and help him. Sure enough, a minister from the 10th and Elm church of Christ came by. He saw the guy. Made a remark about how unfortunate it was that this had happened to him. Said a prayer for him on the spot. He then wrote about it in his journal later that night and used the experience as an illustration in next Sundayís sermon. A little bit later, an elder from the Southside Church of Christ came by. He was in a hurry to get home from work, but he felt sorry for the man. So he stopped as said a prayer for him. Knowing that he was only one man, he decided others should pray for this man. The following Sunday, he announced that there would be a special service of prayer for the man who had fallen. A little later, a man from the Buddhist temple came by, and felt compassion for this man. He stopped and put him into the back seat of his car and took him to the nearest hospital.
Now I know that is not how the parable goes. I have adapted it specifically for a contemporary context, trying to maintain some of the same sorts of details Jesus included in his original story.
When tragedy strikes, we have a tremendous opportunity, burden and responsibility to minister to others. Historically, it has always been Christians who have answered the call and the need to care for the sick, dying and hurting. Even in recent years, we have sent aid to Ghana and Ethiopia. It was enough that their governments officially recognized us. The Churches of Christ disaster relief has done a great service in organizing benevolent relief efforts for those struck by floods, tornadoes and other disasters. The Manhattan Church of Christ in New York took a major role in helping the victims of 9-11. And there are numerous other ministry efforts that have happened that I could mention.
Dare we get involved in these sorts of things? The Good Samaritan did. It may mean going out of your way to help. Getting involved may even mean getting a little messy. When you deal with those whose lives have been messed up, you will get messy too. Look at what Jesus did. He went out of his way to minister to a world that was harassed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd. He got as messy as messy could get. He was crucified on a cross. But look at the result of that self-sacrifice!
Jesus taught, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me." I fear that many have so "spiritualized" Jesus teaching of laying down their life that in no longer has any real substance to it. I fear that it no longer means stopping to help those who have been beaten and left for dead. Sure, getting involved can be exhausting. It can be all consuming. It can mean you get extremely messy. But getting involved is extremely Biblical! It is what our Lord expects of us.
Do you remember what prompted the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan? Letís read:
Luke 10:25-29 "And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Is it Godís command that we love our neighbor as ourselves? YES! HOW do you obey that command? Does loving our neighbor as ourselves mean merely saying be warmed and be filled when they are in need? Does it mean merely praying for them when they are right in front of us? It means getting involved!!!
Whether you realize it or not, when you get involved, you are opening the door for spreading the Gospel. That is the sort of thing Jesus did. He healed the afflicted, fed the hungry, comforted the fainthearted, and then shared the Gospel with them. The greatest need a person has is to be saved from his sins. Many times, a person may not recognize that until something bad happens. Never forget to share the Gospel as well.
Gospel means Good News. We are full of good news. Even though this is a world where everyone is out for himself, a person can belong to a kingdom where everyone is out for each other. We demonstrate that by ministering to those in need. Even Jesus was out for us. Because he died for our sins, which have messed up the world, because he rose from the grave, we have the hope, the expectation of eternal life where everything is as it should be. The world is temporary, and we look forward to being in Heaven with God. In the meantime, we rely on each other for encouragement, comfort, and support. That is good news!
So, does the Bible say anything relevant when tragedy strikes? Yes it does! First of all, rely on God, not your own abilities or your own wisdom. Second, render service to those struck by tragedy, and you will have reward in Heaven from God.