The View From Above, part 4
By Rev. Nate Atwood
Senior Pastor of Kempsville Presbyterian Church
This Is All About America, Right?
In one sense it is about America. We are a unique
nation. Our foundation is in Scripture (study the history and
you'll see this is true), and thus our freedoms are specifically
a gift of God and an expression of His Will. There is a moral
imperative wrapped around America, which makes us a target for
those who do not love freedom, democracy, and the deeper spiritual
truths our way of life is founded on.
We also find ourselves in an enormous conflict
between worldviews. The battle has shifted. Thirty years ago,
the war was between atheistic communism and theistic democracy.
Now the battle is between Islamic Fundamentalism and the Christian
West. This battle is so very intense because the worldviews could
not be more different. It may be that we have now entered a new
era-a new war. The Cold War has been replaced by the War of Terrorism.
In both cases, these wars were/are driven by deep ideologies that
cannot peacefully coexist.
Yet, in the final analysis, this still isn't
"all about America." Despite God's past favor on America, we remain
"bit players" on the world stage. The centerpiece of human history
is actually two-fold. First of all, God's plan rotates around
the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All human events must be pulled through
the grid of God's plan to extend the Gospel to all nations. The
greatest significance of America has been that historically we
have been the great missionary nation, funding the extension of
the Gospel around the world.
Secondly, we must understand that, from a Biblical
perspective, the centerpiece of the nations is Israel, not America.
Roughly 4,000 years ago God made a promise to Abraham that still
"I will establish my covenant as an everlasting
covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for
the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants
after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien,
I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants
after you; and I will be their God." (Genesis 17:7-8).
In His covenant with Abraham and his descendants,
God gave the land of Canaan (modern-day Palestine) as an "everlasting
possession." Everlasting means ever-lasting. God has given
the land permanently to Israel.
If we believe this, the entire conflict in the
Middle East, and perhaps the terrorist attacks on our nation,
are radically reframed. I submit there can be only one legitimate
claim to the land of Israel, and it clearly belongs to the descendants
of Abraham (the Jews). Does this mean the modern Jewish state
has the right to treat resident Palestinians in an ungodly fashion?
Absolutely not. Scripture demands that His people treat "strangers"
who live in their midst with respect and favor. However, should
the land of Canaan be given (even in part) to anyone other than
the Jews? Absolutely not. To do so would be to set oneself up
against what God has already spoken in His Word.
Yes, from time to time the Jews have been exiled
from Israel. Yet the Bible makes it clear that the "coming and
going" of Israel from her own land happens only by the Hand of
God (Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26). Those who seek to strip
the land from Israel set themselves up against God's decrees.
While God has periodically punished Israel for
her sin by removing her from the land through ungodly nations
(such as the Babylonians [modern-day Iraq] or the Romans), He
has subsequently judged those nations for their rape of Israel.
Those who align themselves with God will follow one of the most
basic formulas of the Old Testament - God's promise to Abraham
- "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those
who curse you" (Genesis 12:3).
From this perspective, the conflict in the Middle
East, the role of America, and the recent terrorist attacks take
on a very different light. All the pressure from within the Middle
East (and around the world) on Israel to "give up" some of their
land to form a Palestinian state is, in fact, ungodly. The Lord
Himself has already promised the land to Abraham's descendants.
God will bless those nations who honor that promise, for He told
Abraham "I will bless those who bless you."
What is the most likely message intended by these
terrorist attacks - especially if they have been carried out by
Muslim radicals? The message to the United States is without doubt,
"Stay out of the Middle East. Stop supporting Israel. If it weren't
for your influence, your money, and your armaments, we would have
subdued this little Jewish state long ago."
No doubt, in light of these recent attacks, there
will be ever-increasing pressure on our government to cave in
to the Palestinians' demands. Yet, if Genesis 12 and 17 are in
fact the Word of God, what would be the result of a nation abandoning
Israel? The answer is simple . . . "I will curse those who
curse you." This is the time for our nation to reassert
our support of Jewish sovereignty over her own land. Yes, Jews
must express godly hospitality to Palestinians who choose to live
in the Jewish state. But it must remain the Jewish state.
What we must grasp is that not merely the fate
of Israel is at stake. The attempt to force Israel from the land-which
now includes direct intimidation of the United States by these
terrorists-is really nothing other than an attempt to undermine
God's Word. This promise of the land to Abraham's descendants
is just that- a promise. In fact, it is a promise made by God.
Perhaps this is beginning to sound familiar.
You may remember that in the Garden of Eden the serpent began
his seduction of mankind with the simple question, "Hath
God said?" From the beginning Satan has sought to undermine
the Word of God. Indeed, this is why the stakes are so very high
and the passion oftentimes irrational. Behind the curtain of current
events on our world stage is the unending conflict between God's
promises and Satan's attack on those promises.
Thus, beginning with the Church, we Americans
must understand that on the world stage, we are not quite THE
SUPERPOWER we imagine ourselves to be. In reality, we are bit
players. The real struggle is between Israel and the nations immediately
around her. These same people groups have been fighting over this
same piece of real estate for 4,000 years. Behind this struggle
lies God's promises to Abraham, which are an expression of God's
entrance onto the world scene and His involvement in the affairs
of mankind. Despite the personal losses we have suffered, we must
grasp that the center of God's earth is Jerusalem, not New York
City or Washington, DC.
Finally, this is not to say that American Christians
are released from the responsibility to preach the Gospel to both
Jews and Muslims. Indeed, the Messiah is the greatest blessing
we can give. This was the heart of God's promise to Abraham and
the Muslim people all along.
"In your seed all the nations of the earth
shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).
That "seed" was none other than the Messiah-Jesus of Nazareth.
Is this all there is to say on this subject?
Of course not. The situation is still developing, and there are
many Christian spokesmen who are wiser and have more to say than
I. This is simply a start. And if anything, it is merely a statement
of those things which are timeless . . . God’s compassion.
God’s justice. The brevity of life and the need to prepare
for the life to come. The significance of prayer, deeds of mercy,
and sharing a simple faith in God in the midst of troubled times.
God’s Presence on the world stage evidenced by His raising
up of nations while bringing down others all against the backdrop
of a small unlikely clan (Israel) and an even more unlikely Gospel
(“For God so loved the world . . .”)
I’m not sure there is anything new in any
of this. But then, at its heart, our faith is not complex and
our message is unchanging. What is staggering about the events
of this past Tuesday is not the inactivity of God but rather the
efficiency of God. In one fell swoop, God brought the clash of
worldviews into sharp relief. He toppled American idols and, at
least for this week, we have been a praying nation. He set up
the enemies of Israel as the object of scorn by the most powerful
nation in the history of mankind. Radical Islamic faith and its
attendant hatred of Israel seems to be in the crosshairs of impending
judgment even as the American military begins to assemble for
an inevitable counterstrike, perhaps of massive proportions.
God rescued tens of thousands of lives who could
so easily have been in the midst of the rubble. He comforted (and
comforts) an unknown number of families. He has moved in the hearts
of believers and non-believers alike to act in compassion and
bravery. He brought a nation together, and perhaps brought a nation
to her knees. Only God knows how many may have come to faith in
Jesus Christ in the past few days alone. Let us always remember
that salvation of the soul unto eternal life is the ultimate activity
God is not through with America. Not yet. Yes,
judgment may be coming. But revival also may come as well. It
may come in the midst of judgment. It may come in place of judgment.
Yet time after time in our history–when we have been in
the deepest of distress–God has sent His preachers and His
people across the face of this nation and around the world with
one simple message: God is merciful. Turn to Him now.
I know that all of this can seem a bit confusing.
Am I saying God Himself attacked America on Tuesday morning? No.
I am saying that God historically has used wicked people and wicked
nations to bring those whom He would set His mercy upon to their
knees. (The Book of Habakkuk) My contention is that these
terrorists–and those who were behind them–were working
most immediately at the impulse of Satan and at the behest of
their own free will. However, ever behind the scenes is the Hand
of God. As Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s
devil.” Thus, God allowed Satan to whip up the fury
of ungodly men to serve an even larger purpose.
Is part of the message that our nation has sinned
against God and thus we have forfeited some of His protection
against unbridled evil? Most assuredly. The Scriptures picture
this time and again. Many times God allowed evil men access to
nations, Israel, the Church, or individual believers because of
unconfessed sin. His intent all along was to bring people to their
knees in humble contrition.
Even our own leaders have understood that God
uses hard times to bring the message of sin and repentance. During
the darkest days of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln understood
that the very existence of violence in our homeland was a judgment
of God upon a nation that had sinned. Thus, in the proclamation
for a “Day of Prayer,” (July 7, 1864) Lincoln instructed,
“people to convene at their usual places of worship or
wherever they may be to confess and to repent of their manifold
sins; to implore the compassion and forgiveness of the Almighty.”
In other words, we must be humble enough to search our own hearts
in the midst of hard times.
Is this not precisely what we see happening in
the hearts of some Americans? As in times past, the churches once
again find themselves filling up. Even our Congressmen spontaneously
break into “God Bless America” on the steps
of the Capitol. All of this is to the good. Yet, I believe there
is a deeper request to make of God than that He would "bless America."
Is not the higher prayer to ask that, "America would bless God"?
Though there is more work to do, America has
moved closer to God this week. As Christians, we must pray diligently
and work tirelessly to see that this continues. The loss of these
lives is a great tragedy. Perhaps the events of this week can
be redeemed by a merciful God Who would turn this evil for good
by restoring this nation to Himself and using a rekindled Church
towards this highest of all ends. As I see America falling to
her knees, I am reminded of that great saint Matthew Henry who
once wrote “When God intends great mercy for His people,
He first sets them a-praying.” And so, let Christians
be the symbol and sacrament of God’s promise of mercy. It
is up to us, the Church, to be penitent before the Most High,
and thus we blaze a trail for our nation and the world to follow.
In the past few days, a prophetic figure in our
ministry gave us a striking image of God's intent in this hour.
He remarked that when a jeweler seeks to display a fine diamond
he places it against a backdrop of black velvet. Indeed. Perhaps
God has placed the diamond of His people against the backdrop
of dark times that we might reflect His glory. This is our hour.
This is God’s time for the Church to act. Let us confess
our sins and the sins of the nation. Let us seek His face. Let
us act in compassion. Let us preach the Gospel.
And that, my friends, is the view from above.
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