Was he right to say that?
Did God prevent the bombings from happening in London today?
And if so, why didn't this same God prevent the Holocaust, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the July 7 London bombings, the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004, or the Beslan school crisis of 2004?
As a Christian, I believe that the answers to these questions will only fully be apparent in eternity. Until then, as the New Testament portion of the Bible tells us, "we walk by faith and not by sight."
But, as I look at the historical record as presented in the Bible and at the experience of believers in the centuries since the last book of the Bible was written, I affirm several historic Christian teachings:
- God hears prayer
- God cares about what's happening in our world
- God intervenes in our world, first, out of consideration for His long-term will for us, and second, in response to our prayers, which are really invitations to God to act in our world
That's because they diverge dramatically from the sorts of explanations offered by simplistic religious legalists, even those who identify themselves as Christians.
Remember the Muslim cleric who said that the tsunami of Christmas, 2004 was caused by the failure of Muslims in the affected countries to maintain their religious discipline?
Or the Christian clergyperson who said that the 9/11 attacks were the result of America's abortion laws and acceptance of gay relationships? (He later recanted for that comment.)
Christian theology refuses to accept such simplistic explanations of God or of world events, primarily because God is bigger than our capacity to fully comprehend Him and also because in Jesus Christ, we meet a God Who cares about and is aligned with the human race, particularly with those who suffer.
So, does God intervene in the events of history?
Just last night, during a raucous commercial air flight back to Ohio from Florida, I read some of Philip Yancey's fantastic new book, Prayer. He dealt with this very question. He writes:
Our own time has witnessed uprisings led by prayer.I've gotten myself in trouble suggesting that the collapse of the old, evil Soviet empire had more to do with prayer than the policies of governments, important though the latter may have been, especially the policy of containment as pursued by every US president from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush.
In the 1980s, a pastor named Laszlo Tokes took over a small Reformed church to minister to his fellow Hungarians, an oppressed minority living inside the borders of Romania. His predecessor had openly supported the communist Romanian government, even to the extent of wearing a red star on his clerical robes. In contrast, Tokes spoke out against injustice and protested government actions. Soon the sanctuary began filling each Sunday, bringing together worshipers and dissidents of both Romanian and Hungarian descent. Membership grew from forty persons to five thousand.
The courageous new pastor attracted the attention of special agents as well. They threatened Tokes many times with violence, and one evening the police were dispatched. Word spread quickly and hundreds of Christians--Baptist, Orthodox, Reformed, and Catholic alike--poured out of their homes to surround Tokes's house as a wall of protection. They stood through the day and night, singing hymns and holding candles.
A few days later, police broke through the protestors to seize Tokes. Rather than dispersing and filing home, the protestors decided to march downtown to the police station. As the procession moved noisly through the streets, more and more people joined in. Eventually the crowd in the town square swelled to 200,000, nearly the entire population of that area. The Romanian army sent in troops, who in one bloody incident opened fire on the crowd, killing a hundred and wounding many more. Still the people held their ground, refusing to disperse.
A local pastor stood to address the protestors in an attempt to calm the rising anger and prevent a full-scale riot. He began with three words, "Let us pray." In one spontaneous motion that giant mass of farmers, teachers, students, doctors, and ordinary working people fell to their knees and recited the Lord's Prayer--a corporate act of civil disobedience. Within days the protest spread to the capital city of Bucharest, and a short time later the government that had ruled Romania with an iron fist toppled to the ground.
But Yancey catalogs one instance after another in which the eyes of faith see the hand of God, responsive to the prayers of people. Yancey recites prayers offered and prayers seemingly answered in Poland, East Germany, and South Africa.
There must be many elements in the world's response to Islamist terrorism:
- Citizens, like the London EMS worker, need to be vigilant, watchful for suspicious and menacing behaviors
- Governments must enforce the law and guard their citizens from terrorists
- Christians must proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ that frees people from hatred and from performance-based religion, freeing believers in Christ to become the people God made them to be.
- Christians also must pray for protection of the world from people bent on violence, inviting the power of God into our world.
...wherever Christian missionaries have traveled they have left behind a trail of hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools.In response to Jesus' command that we love God and neighbor, Christians have always and continue to serve their neighbors--whatever their neighbors' religious affiliation.
But in addition to acting in the power of God, we're also called to pray.
Who knows? Somewhere on this planet it may be that vigilant, compassionate Christians have been praying that God would thwart terrorist attacks in Britain and that had something to do with an emergency worker seeing smoke emanating from a suspicously parked vehicle near Piccadilly Circus. Maybe it was God who ensured that the would-be terrrorists bungled their plot to violate the laws of God and of humanity.
I wouldn't be surprised.
Which is why, in an act of faith tonight, I say with Chris Matthews, "Thank God!"
[For a discussion of tragedy befalling the innocent, see here.]
[For a discussion of the role of governments in the life of the world and the rule of God, see here.]
[THANKS TO: Bill Hobbs, Annie Gottlieb, Aramis of Three Mass'keteers, Ann Althouse, and Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.]
[THIS POST HAS been substantially cross-posted at RedBlueChristian.com.]