Today is September 11th. Twelve years ago the worst act of terrorism in history against the United States took place. Most of us can remember vividly where we were, what we were doing when we heard what had happened. Many of us spent the day glued to our television sets watching it all unfold. As we look back on it now, even after 12 years, it evokes a significant emotional response.
It was horrible.
It was tragic.
Incredible heroism and despicable terrorism were both on display, and are forever etched into our minds.
As I reflect on that day, and as I look at the various postings on the internet I can’t help but wonder…
Have we, as those who say we are followers of Christ, fallen into the sin of Jonah? We often tell the story of “the reluctant prophet”. I loved the story when I was a little kid. Jonah is commanded by God to take the news of impending judgment to the city of Nineveh. Instead he runs the other way, ends up being swallowed by a great fish and then spit out on dry land. He repents, goes to Nineveh and preaches God’s message and everyone repents and we all live happily ever after, right? Not quite.
If you look more closely at the story, it is a little darker, a little harder than the version we teach our first graders in Sunday School.
The Ninevites, part of the Assyrian Empire, were the terrorists of their day. They cut out tongues, they skinned people alive, they stacked heads outside of conquered cities, they slashed open the wombs of pregnant women. By definition they were terrorists – using terror to further their goals. When Jonah was told to take a message of imminent judgment to them he refused. He ran the opposite direction and eventually decided it would be better to die (by being thrown overboard in the middle of a storm) than to deliver the message.
God did not let Jonah off that easily. Instead, He sent a large fish to swallow him and make a course correction. Jonah prays in the belly of the fish and finally says, “What I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9b) In other words, “Ok Lord, I’ll go. You have the right to save whoever you want.”
Jonah then goes and preaches to the people of Nineveh – one of the largest cities of his day – and a miracle occurs. The people believe God! (Jonah 3:5-9) The king calls for a fast in hopes that God will relent and let them live. And God hears their prayers and does not send the judgment on the city.
You would think that Jonah would be overjoyed! Thousands of people have just turned their hearts to the one true God as a result of his message. Instead, Jonah is angry. We find out the real reason why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He tells God, “I told you this was why I didn't want to go in the first place. You are too nice; you’ll forgive anybody! Just kill me now!” (My paraphrase of Jonah 4:1-3.)
I wonder if that is not where we in the American church are now. We have been commanded to take the Gospel into every nation. EVERY NATION -- not just the easy ones, not just the ones who want us there. “Every nation” even means those who hate us, those who commit terrorist acts against us.
We are on the other side of the cross from Jonah. We know that Christ came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. We know that when the sins of the world were put on Christ on the cross, it included the sins of terrorists and Muslims (the two terms are NOT synonymous!) as well as ours. But do we really, sincerely want to see them come to know Jesus? Do we really want them to find forgiveness for their sins? Maybe we have not been as serious about reaching them because subconsciously, we don’t think they deserve salvation. They are ruthless killers after all.
Sometimes it seems like many here in the US are smugly pleased to see the turmoil in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria are imploding. “Serves ‘em right, the bunch of terrorists…” Really? REALLY? I know that that sentiment may not be spoken out loud, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves, isn't that kind of how we think? “Well, at least if they are killing each other, they aren't killing us.”
The solution for 9/11 is not more wars, it is not more bombing, it is certainly not hatred. We, as people who call ourselves Christians, should be falling on our faces in prayer for those who are our enemies. Isn't that what Jesus commands us to do? We should be begging God to send out more laborers into the harvest – people who are willing to go to the hard places and shine God’s light. We should be redoubling our efforts to penetrate the countries that harbor terrorists, not with more military, but with Christian businessmen, with teachers, and yes, with missionaries. We should be taking the message of Salvation to them. Terrorism is at its root a heart issue. The only One I know who can truly change hearts is Jesus. Those who espouse terror to communicate their message are willing to die for it. Are we?
On this anniversary of terror, would you join with me in praying for the millions who are blinded by a false religion? Will you pray with me that God would forgive us for the hatred, however subtle it might be, that we have harbored against those in the Muslim world? Would you ask God to use every means at His disposal to draw people to Himself? Can we all ask God to protect us from the sin of Jonah – that of being so filled with hatred for a people group that we would rather die than see them come to find salvation? Can we all agree that in the place of hatred and terror we need God’s love and forgiveness?