Posts tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Hope in the Psalms

Credit: Engin Akyurt / Pexels.com

Recently, life seems to have been a series of calamities.

COVID continues to ravage the world.

Those still struggling to leave Afghanistan are terrified for their very lives.

Countless communities are struggling to clean up after Ida.

Burnout, hopelessness, and despair feel like they’re everywhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a way forward from all of this. But such a way seems elusive – at least right now.

Of course, calamity in life is nothing new, nor is it anything avoidable.

Theologians have noted that within the book of Psalms, there are different genres of Psalms:

There are Psalms of Praise that honor God for who He is.

There are Wisdom Psalms that offer guidance for and through life.

There are Royal Psalms that give thanks for the ancient kings of Israel and yearn for a coming king, sent by God, who can rule the world.

There are Psalms of Thanksgiving that reflect on the good things God has done.

And there are Psalms of Lament that shed tears when life does its worst to us.

It is, of course, not surprising to read of tears and fears when the Psalmist is lamenting some tragedy. What is surprising, however, is that in even many of the sunny Psalms, there are still notes of melancholy.

For example, Psalm 40 is a Psalm of Praise, but the Psalmist praises God because He has rescued him from a terrifyingly terrible time:

I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. (Psalm 40:1-2)

Psalm 104 also praises God, but nevertheless says of God:

When You hide Your face, Your creatures are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Psalm 104:29)

Though the Psalter has a few purely positive Psalms scattered throughout, for the most part, even the happiest of Psalms are salted with notes of need, sadness, judgment, and helplessness.

That is, until you get to the end of the book. The final Psalm sings:

Praise the LORD. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 150:1-6)

Here is sheer praise – sheer joy. But it comes at the end of the book.

Though we may have moments in this life of pure joy, like the Psalms, for the most part, our lives are salted with notes of need, sadness, judgment, and helplessness. But the End is on its way when we – yes, even we who have lost our breath in death – will have our breath restored and we will praise the Lord.

As we continue to encounter calamity, may we look forward to that day when we praise God everlastingly.

September 13, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Moral Imperative of Afghanistan

The scenes out of Afghanistan these past two weeks have been nothing short of horrific. Scenes of Afghan civilians clinging to the side of a C-17 as it took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, desperate to escape the predations of the Taliban, are now seared into our collective consciousness. Stories of people hiding in the wheel wells of U.S. military planes, and then being crushed by their landing gear, are jarring reminders of just how quickly this nation is deteriorating as the U.S. ends a 20-year mission there. So many people’s lives are under threat from Taliban extremists – from U.S. citizens who have not been able to leave to Afghanis who have served, often valiantly, assisting the U.S. military. Already, there are stories of the Taliban beheading Afghanis who assisted the U.S. military and fears that the group will sexually enslave women who do not follow the organization’s strict interpretation of Sharia Law.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. launched a military campaign against the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks and was assisted by the Taliban, which provided safe shelter for Al Qaeda. In the decade prior to this, the West lived largely under the philosophical influence of Post-Modernism and its smug amoralism. Universal standards of right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness were largely relegated to outdated and culturally embedded categories from a religiously superstitious era. The modern world had no need for such sanctimoniousness.

But then, planes were plowed into the tallest towers in New York City, sending them crumbling to the ground, and thousands of people lost their lives in an instant because of 19 terrorists, and the amoralism of Post-Modernism shattered. There was no way around it – what happened that day was evil. We needed the categories of morality to describe the gravity of what we all experienced that day.

In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Nico Jacobellis was charged with two counts of possessing and showing an obscene film at a theatre he managed and was ordered to pay fines according to State statutes. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Jacobellis’ was Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. In Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence to the ruling, he famously wrote of obscene material, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Though I may quibble over how well Justice Stewart knew obscene material when he saw it, his broader moral argument is an intriguing one. How do we know when something is obscene or not? How do we know when something is wrong or not? It is possible to make an argument that we just do. We just know it when we see it.

The apostle Paul identifies the source of this innate moral compass when he writes of people who are not believers in the true God:

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)

The reason we all have an innate moral compass that knows evil when it sees it is because we are hardwired that way by God.

On September 11, 2001, we saw evil – and we knew it. The question was: how would we react to the evil we saw? We chose to go after the terrorist organization that attacked us and, in the process, made many friends in Afghanistan. As we now bring our mission there to a close two decades later, we are seeing threats of evil from the Taliban and desperation among many innocent and threatened Afghanis – and we know it. The question is: how will we react to the evil that we see?

That’s a question that, politically and nationally, we have yet to figure out precisely how to answer. But it’s a question that demands an answer – for the sake of what’s right and for the sake of people’s lives.

August 23, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Temporary Peace and Perfect Peace

In a story that has largely flown under the radar, a week ago Saturday, the United States signed a deal with the Taliban that begins the process of ending the war in Afghanistan. The process of withdrawing our troops will be a protracted one, and the end of this war is anything but certain. Mujib Mashal reports for The New York Times:

The agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, which followed more than a year of stop-and-start negotiations and conspicuously excluded the American-backed Afghanistan government, is not a final peace deal, is filled with ambiguity, and could still unravel … 

The withdrawal of American troops – about 12,000 are still in Afghanistan – is dependent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of major commitments that have been obstacles for years, including its severance of ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. 

The agreement also hinges on more difficult negotiations to come between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the country’s future. Officials hope those talks will produce a power-sharing arrangement and lasting cease-fire, but both ideas have been anathema to the Taliban in the past.

This war may finally end – but only maybe. What’s more, the lack of American presence in the region could lead to the re-oppression of historically marginalized groups there:

The United States, which struggled to help secure better rights for women and minorities and instill a democratic system and institutions in Afghanistan, has struck a deal with an insurgency that has never clearly renounced its desire for a government and justice system rooted in a severe interpretation of Islam.

Though the Taliban get their primary wish under this agreement – the withdrawal of American troops – they have remained vague in commitments to protect the civil rights that they had brutally repressed when in power.

In short, the peace agreement that is being forged in this region is a very tenuous one and comes with a price that include the loss of some civil rights.

The prophet Isaiah famously prophesies the coming of the Messiah as One who will be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). What is sometimes missed in Isaiah’s description of the Messiah, however, is how this Prince of Peace will establish His peace:

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:7)

The Prince of Peace will bring His peace by establishing “justice and righteousness.” An enduring peace cannot be accomplished by overlooking injustice and righteousness – by looking past sin – but only by dealing directly with sin. This is why human peace treaties – no matter how noble – always seem to be temporary. For as long as there is sin in this world, there can be no perfect peace.

Thus, though we may wait expectantly for and even celebrate a peace treaty for Afghanistan, we rest assuredly in the perfect peace our Prince of Peace will bring on the Last Day when He will:

…judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

That’s perfect peace. And it’s coming – no matter what happens in Afghanistan.

March 9, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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