As with 9/11, there are certain events in human history whose depth – dimensions defy summing up. Nevertheless faith in God in our time requires that we speak forth rather than to remain silent. As Christians there is only one reality that authorises us to speak on behalf of God in an hour like this – the foundation of our faith, the cross. Only if, by the grace of God, we are able to maintain our focus upon the cross of Christ, will we be able to share in God’s own perspective upon the full horror of senseless evil and speak forth to a battered nations words that are equally challenging and compassionate.
In reading the newspaper stories on the Bali bombings one of things which struck me deeply was the repeated references to “hell.” HOLIDAY HELL screamed the West Australian (14/10/02 p.10) followed by headlines like “Island of the Gods turns to living hell”, “Hell – hole imagery casts its blight” and so on. Quite unconsciously, our culture could not find any word adequate to describe the terror and the pain of these atrocities other than a religious word whose original reference – endless suffering- has been almost completely discarded. This hell language, spontaneously provoked by a brutal act of immeasurable savagery, grants us a truly rare insight into the real state of people’s hearts (Matthew ) and gives us deep cause to reflect upon the spiritual state of the nation, the place of the church and the actions of the Holy One of God (Mark ). These reflections are not easy for me to bring forth, both because I feel I share in the common shallowness of our time and because they are not all palatable to hear.
As to the spiritual state of the nation, all is not lost. With John Howard calling a day of mourning for Sunday, the day of Christian worship, and with his own plans to attend Hills CLC in Sydney, the entire Australian public is reminded of the Christian heritage of this land. We should anticipate a spike in church attendance in response to this disaster.
Nevertheless, we need to be deeply prayerful about the longer term response from mourning over this disaster. In the case of our closest current political ally, The United States, church attendance has levelled off and it has become clearer that most of the response to September 11 in the nation was politically driven civil religion: “God Bless America” was on the lips of many, but the name of Jesus was strangely hushed. Whatever the wickedness of Saddam Hussein and other terrorists, the American response has not been to examine its own conscience and record of wrongs (which all nations have) but to turn its fury outwards. Whilst punishment is not incompatible with forgiveness, one does not discern the attitude of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).
I fear that our nation may fall into the judgement of God if it seeks to strike back at radical Islamic forces in the world in a spirit of anger and retribution. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). It is the will of Satan that we hate those who hate us and so become more and more like him (Ephesians 4:26) and them and less like our Father in heaven who blesses evil people while perfectly opposing the wickedness within them (Matthew 5:45). Let us pray for our nation to seek justice without retaliation. What then about the place of the church in Australia. About this I am deeply concerned. It is too easy for us to scapegoat the wicked Moslems who committed these atrocities (I do believe they are wicked) and take the heat off ourselves. (I am old enough to recall the bitter opposition to the Archbishop of Canterbury in his concern for the Argentine soldiers who fell in the Falklands war.) Prejudice under any circumstances is anti – god (Acts 17:26), however popular.
On the other hand, and much more subtly, is the temptation to cover over the spiritual state of the mass of those who have so sadly perished. In a manner which is so Australian (and I have holidayed on Bali) the place of this trauma was a night club where people were seeking to find pleasure in all its forms. Such actions always open up humanity to the judgement of God (Romans 1:18- 32). Note, I am NOT suggesting we go around using this language to non- believers. Nor am I suggesting that God singled these folks out for punishment, just the reverse.
Jesus responded to some tragedies in his time in the following way. “At that very time No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1 – 5).
Parable of fig tree Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (the fig tree) compassion and judgement.
Lamb of God on throne (Rev) He s the one who has been to hell so has authority as a man (Mt 28) to both inflict and deliver
Insight into evil in our own hearts especially if cannot forgive viz. Jesus on cross End of trivial pursuit.