Saturday, July 09, 2005

Offending God to Please Men

"In our day some have so emphasized 'felt needs' in worship that they have forgotten that in a future day our most important 'felt need' will be to stand before God covered by the righteousness of Christ. The real issue is not how we feel, but rather how God feels. Our responsibility is to 'learn to feel' what God does." (Erwin Lutzer, Ten Lies About God [Nashville, Tennessee: Word Publishing, 2000], p. 59)

Thinking back on what happened after September 11, 2001, I see a lot of similarities between those events and the events surrounding the terrorism in England this past Thursday. Some of the similarities are good (the resolve to defeat those responsible, charitable assistance to those who are suffering, support for law enforcement officials, firefighters, and others who have helped, etc.). But some of the similarities are bad.

Recall what happened in 2001. The memorial services held September 14 in Washington and September 23 in New York were attended by Muslims, along with other religious leaders, including Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, and a Hindu. One of the speakers at the September 14 memorial said that the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same. Passages of the Bible were quoted out of context in order to convey messages that the authors of scripture couldn't possibly have intended. At the New York memorial on September 23, the governor of New York and a rabbi claimed that everybody who died September 11 went to Heaven. President Bush called Islam a great religion. Reporters covering the memorials commended the unity among the religious leaders and frequently commented on how much they liked the services.

We can expect the same to occur in the coming days, though with less media coverage, in response to the events in London. In 2001, in response to some comments made by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, there was a controversy about whether the terrorist attacks may have been a form of God's judgment. Don't expect that sort of controversy, even temporarily, in 2005. However little modesty we had in 2001, we surely don't have any more of it now. We probably have less. One charge you can't bring against Americans or Britons is that they're humble.

Religious ecumenists often criticize those who think in terms of the exclusivity of truth and moral absolutes, but those ecumenists are often the ones who insist that we think of something like these terrorist attacks only in black and white categories. The people who died at the hands of the terrorists couldn't have been under God's judgment. All of them are in Heaven. The nation attacked is innocent.

I know that there are some exceptions. There are some liberals, for example, who will largely blame the United States or England for the terrorist attacks. But the mainstream response to the terrorism of 2001, and the mainstream response that seems to be developing after the events in England, is one of religious ecumenism, pride, and hypocrisy. Much of the response to the terrorism, such as the charitable response and the military response, is commendable. But the religious response has been deplorable and probably will long continue to be. We're a spiritually sick nation, and so is England, largely living off of the benefits of our forefathers.

I remember some of my initial thoughts after New York City was attacked in 2001, and one thing that came to mind was Luke 13:1-5. Norman Geisler was a guest on Hank Hanegraaff's "Bible Answer Man" radio program that day, and they made comments along the same lines. If I remember correctly, one of them cited Luke 13 during the program. I remember thinking that two of the most important lessons America could learn from the events of that day were the urgent need to be prepared to stand before the judgment seat of God and the importance of religion. The people who went to work in New York City on the morning of September 11 weren't expecting their life to end that day. And the terrorists who murdered them were religiously motivated, which illustrates the significance of being sure that our religious beliefs are correct. Ideas have consequences, including religious ideas.

As the days passed, with the memorials on September 14 and September 23, it became increasingly clear that America wasn't learning these lessons. The initial increase in church attendance didn't last long. Life went on as usual, without much change. Judging from the early response to the recent events in London, it seems that we've been hardened to the initial shock of 2001, we've become even more proud than we were then, and a discussion such as the one initiated by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in 2001 wouldn't even get off the ground today. A template for responding to this sort of event is now in place, and I expect it to be used for a long time to come. God will be mentioned in memorial services and on other occasions, but it will be a false god of our imagination. He thinks just like we do. And considering how little we think about God, he's a god who doesn't think much, who doesn't have much depth, and who lets almost everybody into Heaven.

This problem with terrorism is an issue of law enforcement, military action, and charity toward those who suffer through it, but it's also a religious issue. All of life is religious in one way or another. God is sovereign over everything, and all things have been created by Him and for Him. And this modern terrorism is largely religiously motivated. We should respond to it with law enforcement and military force. But we also should respond to it with the proclamation of God's word and His gospel. The Western world has proven that it's unwilling to do what ought to be done. We'll respond appropriately with military force and in giving money to charity, for example, but the only god we'll acknowledge in the process is the god of our imagination, and we'll invite everybody from Buddhists to Hindus to Moslems to our memorial services to invoke this god who doesn't exist. People who don't give God much of their attention and don't make much of an effort to honestly seek His face will expect Him to help them in this time of difficulty, but they won't want to do much to change their lifestyle in the process.

The first commandment is to love God. Loving other people is the second commandment, not the first (Matthew 22:36-39). Jesus Christ must be glorified, and every thought has to be taken captive to His obedience. Jesus Christ is God. Allah is not. These are times for putting the gospel on a lampstand, not putting it under a basket.

"those who honor Me I will honor" (1 Samuel 2:30)

"And Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people did not answer him a word." (1 Kings 18:21)