Terrorism and Repentance

  High atop the Pentagon, a few yards from the jet- sized hole in the wall, workmen carefully unfurled a huge American flag. As they secured the Stars and Stripes to the building, one of them lifted his hand in a quiet salute. A photographer captured the moment. The picture that landed on the front page of newspapers across the country seems to symbolize something that has suddenly become deeply important to Americans: a sense of national unity. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on our country, Americans have crowded into churches. My own church was packed again this week. Christians have reached out to comfort the grief-stricken and are telling our leaders what the church says about the just use of military force. But what's missing in the flurry of flag-waving and comfort-giving is something that should be the first business of the church: Calling ourselves, and then the nation, to repentance. Christians of the past knew that repentance and faith are a package. The Christian life is a life of returning, of going back to the cross daily in repentance and faith. For years, many of us have half-jokingly said that if God doesn't bring judgment on America soon, he'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. I approach this subject gingerly because it is easy to be misunderstood. But I think we do have to try to discern God's purpose in the events that have shaken the whole world. One prominent leader publicly blamed homosexuals and abortionists for bringing God's judgment on America. But we must be careful when we draw conclusions like this. Our job is to bring Americans together so we can teach and lead them. Besides, when it comes to judgment, we need to look a little closer to home. For judgment always begins with God's people. For example, in the Old Testament, we read that before God appointed him to lead, Nehemiah repented for his sins and the sins of God's people. Later he led the people -- recently returned from exile in Persia -- in a time of corporate confession and repentance. Jesus himself was confronted by people wanting to know why bad things happen to good people -- people who'd been killed in the Temple or crushed by a falling tower. Jesus did not try to give them some elaborate explanation. Instead, he just said to them, "Repent, or you too will perish." We should understand repentance as Martin Luther did -- central to life with Christ. Let's say, hypothetically, that the attacks were God's judgment. Not that he caused them -- he doesn't cause evil -- but he may use such events for his purposes. What will then save us is not the Marines, cruise missiles, satellites, or smart bombs; the only thing that will save us is repentance and faith. If I am correct in thinking God may be using these events to wake up America, we must face a sobering fact: We will not prevail against terrorism no matter how good our armed forces are. We will prevail only if God in his mercy decides to forgive us, heal our land, and give America another chance. So, yes -- keep those flags waving, and continue to comfort those who mourn. But if we are correctly reading the signs of the times, by far the most important thing we should be doing is dropping to our knees in prayer and begging God's forgiveness. God is not calling us to finger pointing, but to repentance -- a radical changing of our ways in the light of the Cross.


Chuck Colson



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