Posts tagged ‘War’

The Violence That Never Seems To Stop

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Credit: Sam Rios on Unsplash

In my blog last week, I reflected on some of the events that shaped 2019, and I noted that there have been “accelerating attacks on houses of worship.” Unfortunately, the end of 2019 demonstrated just how true that was.

First, it was an attack on a Hanukkah celebration at a home in a New York City suburb. A knife wielding assailant burst into the home, wounding five people while the people inside scrambled to flee out the back door. Then, the very next morning, a gunman opened fire at a Church of Christ congregation outside of Fort Worth. Two people were killed. Many more probably would have been lost, but the gunman was taken down by the church’s security team.

It’s difficult to see these kinds of attacks at these kinds of gatherings. Celebrations and congregations are not meant to be battlefields. They are meant to be arenas of respite and rejoicing.

On the one hand, none of this surprising. As a Christian, I follow a man who warned of “wars and rumors of wars” (Mark 13:7). Those who are Jewish know well Daniel’s prophetic announcement to King Xerxes: “War will continue until the end” (Daniel 9:26). Though both of these prophecies, in their contexts, point to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70, they can be applied throughout history. People are violent. And the human inclination toward violence shows no signs of abating.

While I am heartbroken over these stories, I am also grateful that, in both of these instances, many of these people were able to escape their attackers, or, as in the case of this most recent church shooting, the security team was able to stop the attacker. Sadly, however, we will not be able to end these types of attacks altogether. Too many stories of too much violence have demonstrated otherwise. In truth, despite our best efforts at safety, only God Himself can truly end violence. As God explained to His people of old, when God returns on history’s final day, “no longer will violence be heard” (Isaiah 60:18).

Until that day, I pray for victims and their families, I pray against further attacks, I give thanks for those who protect others while risking themselves, and I look forward to the day when my hope for peace will become the sight of peace. Even when it looks otherwise, I still firmly believe that guns and knives are no match for God.

January 6, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Biggest Humanitarian Crisis In The World

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Credit: USAID

Katherine Zimmerman, a Middle East expert, has called it the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.  In 2014, war broke out in the poverty-stricken nation of Yemen when Iranian-backed rebels stormed and occupied Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa.  Since then, a Saudi-led coalition, along with the Yemeni government, has been trying to take back the city.  Over 10,000 people have died, half of which have been civilians, as a direct result of the fighting.  Indirect casualties are even higher.  Save the Children reports that 130 children are dying every day in Yemen.  Ms. Zimmerman fears that conditions in the country will continue to deteriorate, explaining, “As the conflict goes on, the people are suffering, and it’s to the point now where we’re looking at a cholera epidemic, and massive risk of famine.”

Sadly, this crisis, half a world away, has been regularly eclipsed by a steady stream of riveting domestic intrigue.  But the cries of these victims of war deserve our listening ears and concerned hearts.

One of the most common prayers in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, is that the Lord would hear the cries of the oppressed:

  • “Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.” (Psalm 5:2)
  • “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to You for help, as I lift up my hands toward Your Most Holy Place.” (Psalm 28:2)
  • “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.” (Psalm 61:1)

The glorious promise is that the Lord does hear the cries of the oppressed:

  • “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)
  • “Praise be to the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 28:6)
  • “I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1)

If the Lord hears the cries of the downtrodden, we should too.  So please join me in lending your prayers to the cries of the Yemenis, asking God to bring this crisis to an end.  Pray also that famine and disease would not overtake this land.

In a world where our news cycles regularly revolve around the powerful, it can be all too easy to forget about those on the margins of our societies.  The gospel, however, reminds us that we worship a God who marginalized Himself by being born into a poor village called Bethlehem and growing up as a poor carpenter from Nazareth only to become a poor rabbi who was executed by His enemies on a cross.  Jesus lived His life as a marginalized man.  This man on the margins, however, has promised to use His very marginalization on the cross to draw all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32).  This man on the margins has turned out to be nothing less than the very center of history.

Jesus’ method of marginalization should most certainly inform our mission of reaching and loving the world for Him and in Him.  So, let’s keep our peripheral vision peeled to see those others miss and love those our world overlooks.  For this is what Jesus has done with us.

August 6, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Kim Jong Un, Power, Politics, and Christ

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Credit: Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Last week, when The Washington Post reported that North Korea had successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads that can fit inside the long-range missiles it has been so publicly and ostentatiously testing, the world snapped to attention.  The U.N. Security Council had already voted unanimously the previous weekend to impose new economic sanctions on Pyongyang in response of North Korea’s launch of two intercontinental missiles.  National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that continued provocation from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is “intolerable, from the president’s perspective” and warned that the president is leaving “all options…and that includes the military option” on the table.  President Trump himself declared that any further threats from the Kim regime would be met with “fire and fury.”  Kim Jong Un responded to the president’s warning by threatening an attack against the U.S. territory of Guam.  Tensions have crested dangerously.

As the world grapples with a dangerous and potentially deadly conflict, how do we, as Christians, process this battle of words between the United States and North Korea that could quickly degenerate into a battle of bombs?  Here are a few thoughts.

Pray for a peaceful solution.

Jim Geraghty of National Review outlined three ways the U.S. can potentially respond to North Korea’s latest threats:

A) Learn to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can strike the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles; B) a conventional war sooner to eliminate the threat, that will involve massive casualties on the Korean peninsula and possibly elsewhere; or C) a nuclear exchange with North Korea sometime in the future.

While U.S. officials weigh what Geraghty admittedly calls “three bad options,” Christians should be praying for an option beyond these options:  peace.   I have never been ashamed or afraid to pray what appear to be quixotic prayers.  When someone is terminally ill, I still pray for healing – along with praying for comfort if an earthly healing doesn’t come.  If a marriage seems inexorably headed toward divorce, I still pray for reconciliation – along with praying for each person’s best possible future if reconciliation does not come.  In the case of this latest conflict between the United States and North Korea, I have no problem praying that God would bring peace – that weapons would be laid down and that threats would turn into productive talks – along with praying that our national leaders would be able to respond with other-worldly wisdom to Kim Jong Un if he continues in his menacing ways.

If God can bring peace between Himself and us through His Son, Jesus Christ, peace between nations cannot be dismissed as unrealistic or impossible.  With God, even the impossible can be possible.  So, let us pray for peace.

Don’t let the scope of the threat fool you.

Part of what makes this threat appear so ominous is its scope.  The very word “nuclear” brings to mind visions of mushroom clouds, radiation fallout, and mass casualties.  But the scope of destruction does not have be extensive to be egregious in God’s sight.  Every murder that is committed, every lone wolf terrorist attack that is carried out, and every life that is lost angers God, for all of these things pervert the goodness of God’s creation by destroying the lives of God’s creatures.  The destruction of life offends God deeply, even when it does not make headlines in the form of a nuclear missile.  God is not just concerned with international crises.  He is concerned with every single life – including yours.

Remember, Christ has triumphed over every rogue authority.

One of the fascinating features of North Korean culture is how it has deified the Kim regime.  A North Korean defector, Yeonmi Park, admitted in a 2014 interview that she believed Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong-il, was a god who could read her thoughts.  Of course, such deification of earthly leaders is nothing new.  The first century Roman emperors fashioned a whole cultus around themselves.  In Jesus’ day, Tiberius Caesar had coins minted with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of divine Augustus,” with the obverse side declaring Tiberius to be “the high priest.”[1]  The early Christians rejected such deification of political leaders because they knew that Caesar was not Lord.  Christ was.  This is why the apostle Paul can write that Christ has disarmed the powers and authorities [and has] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).  There is only one God – and He is not in North Korea, the White House, or any other human seat of power.  He is enthroned “in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).  Christ is the authority over every earthly authority.

Caution is certainly needed as we head into an uncertain future with North Korea.  Fear, however, is not.  Kim Jong Un may have nuclear weapons, but we have the sword of the Spirit.  And the Spirit’s sword will continue to wield its power long after human weapons have been beaten into plowshares.  For that, we can be thankful.  And because of that, we can be hopeful.

_________________________________

[1] See Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 325.

August 14, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Peace and Justice in the Face of ISIS

Credit: NBC News

Credit: NBC News

First it was James Foley. Days later, it was Steven Sotloff. The beheading of two journalists by ISIS has certainly thrust the travesties of this terrorist organization to the forefront of our minds and our news cycle. But these are just ISIS’s latest crimes. At the beginning of August, some 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee into the mountains of Iraq or face death at the hands of ISIS militants. ISIS also kidnapped hundreds Yazidi women, selling them as sex slaves for as little as $25. Last week, The New York Times profiled the gut-wrenching story of Iraqi soldier Ali Hussein Kadhim who was captured along with hundreds of other soldiers by ISIS militants.  Christians too have been in ISIS’s crosshairs, being threatened with death if they do not convert to radical Islam or pay a tax.

Back home, President Obama is grappling with how to deal with a terrorist threat and crimes against humanity that are half a world away. And he’s been getting pressure from all sides. On one side, a coalition of religious conservatives has signed a petition calling for decisive military action:

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS … genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS … forces.[1]

On the other side, a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders has written a letter to President, urging caution and restraint:

While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.[2]

This is a crisis no president wants to face. This crisis also presents an ethical dilemma no Christian finds easy to confront. On the one hand, my preference and prayer would be that ISIS repent of their crimes and peace be restored to Iraq. On the other hand, I am sober-minded enough to know that ISIS shows no signs of softening. When even the Taliban is concerned about ISIS’s extremism, things are not on the right track.

So how do we understand this problem theologically?

A curious feature of biblical theology is what scholars refer to as “proleptic eschatology.” In short, proleptic eschatology asserts that bits and pieces of what will happen on the Last Day show up in our days. For example, the apostle Paul claims that Christ’s resurrection is only “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day has shown up in the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Likewise, Jesus describes His return on the Last Day to judge the earth thusly: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). But before a cosmic judgment on the Last Day, Jesus describes a smaller judgment in the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in His day: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). Jesus’ words come to pass when the Roman general Titus decimates Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The judgment of the Last Day shows up in the destruction of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day.

It is this theology of proleptic eschatology that Paul has in mind when he exhorts his readers: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Paul promises that even if we see miscarriages of justice in our day, God will avenge evil on the Last Day.

But that’s not the only day God will avenge evil.

Paul knows the evil of our day, if left unchecked until the Last Day, would yield unspeakable horrors. This is why Paul continues by explaining that bits and pieces of God’s judgment on the Last Day show up in our day through the actions of world governments: “[The governing authority] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). The judgment of God against sin on the Last Day shows up through world governments in our day.

This, then, brings us to the Christian’s ethical dilemma. Because, on the one hand, we are called to wait patiently until the Last Day for God’s perfect judgment and justice to be revealed. On the other hand, governing authorities – including our own governing authority – can be used by God as His agents to bring temporal justice to the criminal problems of our day. This is why two sets of Christians can write two very different letters to President Obama.

I, for one, am praying that perhaps ISIS will have a Jonah moment – that they, like when Jonah preached to Nineveh, will hear the warning of God’s judgment, repent, and be spared of His wrath. But I am also very aware that after the preaching of Jonah to Nineveh came the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh – and with the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh came God’s wrath against Nineveh.

The clock is ticking on ISIS. I pray for peace and reconciliation. But I also pray that justice against these terrorists will not tarry long. The spilled blood of thousands is crying out.

__________________________

[1]A Plea on Behalf of Victims of ISIS/ISIL Barbarism in Iraq,” iraqrescue.org.

[2]53 national religious groups, academics, ministers urge alternatives to U.S. military action in Iraq,” Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns (8.27.2014).

September 8, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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