How Should Christians Respond to Terrorist Attacks?

Paris

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Seeing the images coming out of Paris in the last 24 hours has been confronting and disturbing. As these events were unfolding, there was an world class cricket match being played at the WACA in Perth. And I thought: what if an attack happened there?

So, I was asking questions: Are we safe? What should we do? What should Christians say and think as they respond to Da’esh sponsored violence?

I want to mention three or four things we must do, and three or four things we must not do. Some of these were inspired by Ed Stetzer’s recent post on The Exchange . I have used Ed’s heading, though written my own content. This message was written late Saturday after I had fully completed a message for the Hope Eternal series – we’ll get to that some other time. So, I am indebted to Ed for the idea… thank you, brother.

So, how can Christians respond to acts of terror?

As this question is framed, let’s remember that his past week saw terrorist attacks in other places, including Lebanon. Earlier this year, after the first attack in France at Charlie Hebdo, a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria saw 2000 deaths. Compared to the press attention on France, these other attacks received little attention in Australian media. Two things: 1) terrorist attacks like e saw in Paris are very common in some parts of the world, and 2) our press is quite selective in what is presented. We don’t have to get all suspicious about that: no news service will cover everything.

These realities serve to show that our response needs to be more than occasional. we need to draw these responses into our everyday living as followers of Jesus.

So, back to the question: How can Christians respond to increasing prevalence of terror attacks?

1.Pray

It is for no small reason that Paul, persecuted and in prison, writes to his Christian friends in Philippi

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

More than any other time, when our hearts are full of fear, we must be a praying people. We call out to the One who knows all, sees all, rules all, and we have the assurance that our powerful God will hear us.

Psalm 116:1-6

Get together with people and pray. Pray for our world. Pray for Paris. Pray that Da’esh evil will be brought to nothing and our world will be rid of it. Pray that Christ will rule people through grace, love, mercy and selflessness.

2.Love the hurting

Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminds us that anyone who is in need, anyone who is hurting, should receive our love, mercy and attention.

We know the story: Samaritans hated Jews. Jews hated Samaritans. But Jesus tells this parable to show us that when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion.

when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion

We may not know anyone hurting as a direct result of these attacks. Pray for the hurting anyway. And find some way to express that. If you use social media, Tweet like a Christian and tell people you’re praying for the hurting.

3.Love your enemies

Do you sometimes think we are becoming less tolerant and gracious? I do. And some comments in social media have confirmed that thought for me. I have seen Christians posting garbage on facebook, whipping up a frenzy of clicktivism against Muslims in particular.

Seriously friends, we shake the fist and give the finger way too easily. And it’s ugly. It drags the name of Jesus through the foulest of human mud.

Read the Scriptures: Jesus never said we should get angry or get even. Jesus never said we should talk about lining them all up and shooting them. Remember: that is what they would do to us.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. …” (Matthew 5:43–48, NIV)

To be honest, I am finding it very hard to pray for the perpetrators of these acts, or Isis/Da’esh. But Jesus commands me to pray for them. So I will pray they will be overcome, by the grace of God. I pray they would see how Jesus transforms people by grace. I pray they will see that fear and terror cannot win.

Think of early Christian martyrs. Thrown to wild beasts. Burned at the stake. Stories of Polycarp being burned, and yet singing hymns as the fire was set around his feet. Think of Jesus, as he was being crucified, praying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” There’s our model, friends. Let us go and do likewise, and let us do that together.

4.Live good lives

It’s no coincidence that we have been studying 1 Peter in the Hope Eternal series. Peter wrote to persecuted people. They were hated, maligned and misunderstood. His advice? Keep living godly lives in the public square. Don’t retreat to the bunker. Keep doing good. Keep wearing the grace of Jesus on your sleeve.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Think about that when terror strikes: Keep living good lives, Gospel hearted behaviour. Let the love of the King be seen in the people of his Kingdom.

How do Jesus’ people respond to terror? To the horror of Paris?

Romans 12:14–21 (NIV)

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus’ kingdom, quite clearly, is not of this world, but it is our prayer that, living in his likeness and to his glory, our world will be transformed and evil will be undone.

There are some things to do. Here are a few things not to do:

1.Do not hate people

Do not hate people. It’s a fine line, but when Paul says “hate what is evil” he’s talking about actions and behaviour, not people. Even so, we need to guard our heart here.

Hatred, especially in the face of terror, feels good. There’s something about indignation that will sometimes strangely warm us. But it’s a slippery emotion.

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)

The Gospel transforms hatred into a love that seeks Gospel good and Gospel change:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)

Remember Christian, we know how all this will end. It won’t be with the destruction of the church, or with the Christian faith being eradicated. Jesus’ promise is that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

His promise is that a day is coming when

“They will neither harm nor destroy on [the Lord’s] holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, NIV)

In the words of 20th century Christian martyr, Martin Luther King Jr,

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice

And again

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate: only love can do that.

Vengeance belongs to God, and he will defend and vindicate his faithful ones. Believe this and make it your comfort.

2.Don’t blame refugees

It did not take long for some to associate the attacks in Paris with the refugee crisis. Seriously! It was not refugees who mounted the attacks. It was Da’esh. The refugees we tend to see, the refugees our country puts in detention camps, are people fleeing what we saw in Paris.

We are one with refugees, friends. All of us run from these attacks. Let’s not allow the uninformed opinions of some be all we see in this picture.

The Bible reminds us ver directly: God has his eye on refugees, and how we treat them. His people were refugees from Egypt, from Assyria, from Babylon, from Rome, from Hitler, from Stalin, from the Iron & Bamboo curtains. His own dear son and his family were refugees from Herod. (A few days after I preached this message, my sister created this meme – great work Jo!) …

Refugees n Christmas

 

Christians should be the first to respond in grace.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34, NIV)

3. Don’t blame Muslims

Bracketing all Muslims with Da’esh is like saying all Christians are KKK. It’s like saying because some Christian institutions have been places of abuse, that all Christians are abusers of children.

We believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. We want Muslims to come to know Jesus, (and they want us to know the prophet). But we must not answer injustice with prejudice. The Paris attacks were the work of extremists using Islam for their own evil ends.

4. Do not call for war on Islam

To do so is to embark on a Christian Jihad, our own holy war, a crusade. And that is repaying evil with evil, all the worse because we lump all Muslims together. When we do this we do the very thing Da’esh is doing to us.

The truth: everyone needs Jesus

The Gospel is about the transformation of the world under Jesus’ rule.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not perpetuated by fear or violence.

Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through love, peace and selflessness in his people.

Jesus Kingdom transforms our world one life at a time, as people bow they knee, coming under his grace, and live in his likeness.

The impact of his Kingdom in people is described as fruit:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

And when people like you and I come under Christ’s Lordship, we have new life, we are given a new start, and we start to live a miracle of grace:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

As Da’esh shows the world the face of terror, Christians must show the world the face of Christ.

In the day of terror, He is our hope. Christ in us, the hope of glory!

We see the horror, and we weep. But we know, in the end, Christ’s love will win.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV)

A Prayer

Compassionate God and Father of all,

We are horrified at violence

In so many parts of the world

It seems that none are safe

And some are terrified,

others grieving lost loved ones, and lost freedom

 

Hold back the hands that kill and maim

Turn around the hearts that hate

Remove the scourge of evil from our cities

And from our world.

 

Grant instead your powerful spirit of peace

Peace won in the cross of Christ our King

Peace that came through persecution and violence

 

Help us remember that nothing can separate us from your love

That you are with us always

That Christ’s life in us is our power to be

A people of good and a people for good

 

Keep us from prejudice, from judgemental attitudes

From superiority, and from living in fear

 

And until Christ returns,

May we live as new creation, fleeing sin

Walking in newness of life

That people everywhere will know

That because of Jesus

Our world belongs to God.

 

 

 

Restoration – Foundations #7 (Group Questions)

Group discussion questions

Opener: What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘heaven’?

Read: Rev 21:1-8; Rev 22:1-5

How does this biblical vision of the new heavens and the new earth challenge what people typically think about heaven?

What are some of the factors that might make thinking about heaven difficult for us?

Read Isaiah 60

What impresses you most about Isaiah’s vision of God’s restored universe?

How literally should we take the picture Isaiah presents?

Does this comfort you or challenge you?

How might the restoration Jesus will bring influence our church’s mission or their engagement with their local community?

With your group: some time dreaming about this restoration, and asking God to impress his vision on your hearts.

Restoration (Foundations #7)

Reading: Rev 21:1-8; Rev 22:1-5; Isaiah 60

First: some small print:

• In this sermon I will not be discussing the various views about the second coming of Jesus. In many ways these alternate views are but a distraction to the focus God’s big picture, the restoration of all things under Jesus Christ

• I will not offer any extended discussion of the intermediate state: what happens to the soul of the believer on death and until Jesus returns. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise. For now, that is enough. Anyone who trusts Jesus, even in the most simple manner, enters into his presence on death

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Sometimes when I read an exciting novel, I can’t help myself but turn to the last few pages, just to see how things are going to finish. I know it’s bad form: some would say it spoils the whole experience. I am not sure it has ever done that for me.

One thing I am sure about: if I have done that, I know that whatever happens as the story develops, whether good or bad, it will not change the result. It reminds me of how once Desmond Tutu was asked how he retained his faith in the face of so much evil. He is reported to have said “I have read to the back of the book, and we win.”

When thinking of God’s Big Picture, the great climax of all time will be God’s restoration of all things under Jesus Christ.

Screen Shot 2014 08 16 at 8 11 08 pm

We know what restoration is:

Taking something old or damaged, and bringing it back to its original condition. Last year I bought a 1925 Singer sewing machine. For several months I hid it in my shed, restoring it (as best I could) to its original state. It was a gift to my wife, and she loves it. My goal was to take the machine back to its former glory, and bring some delight to my wife in the process.

IMG 0782

Don’t you find yourself longing that the world would be restored? Back to it’s original condition? If you do, you’re like God. Because God is going to make all things right, restore his entire creation.

Interestingly, the idea of restoration does not seem to occupy the minds of many Christians. Most Christians talk more about their idea of heaven.

As it happens, one of the most popular books in Christian circles is a book called ‘Heaven is for real…’ This is the apparently true story of a 7yo boy who experienced heaven during an operation. He had wings, a harp, and found it a bit boring…

And fair enough. Does anyone find this picture appealing? Let’s just say someone invited you to a party, and one of the conditions was that it would be held in a public place, you would have to wear wings, play a harp, and move from one big pile of cotton wool to another while singing songs of praise. Is it a party you would want to attend?

So, are we surprised that there is a degree of ambivalence about heaven? If we’re not sure about heaven, how can we expect people to want to go?

The fact is, the Bible never talks about people in heaven having wings and harps, flitting from cloud to cloud while singing a selection of traditional hymns. So, what does the Bible say about heaven? About this restoration God will bring through Jesus?

Heaven, Restoration and Scripture

In the NT, ‘heaven’ is shorthand for the place where God rules. In the sermon on the mount, and in the NT parables, Jesus often refers to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as the place where the will of God is done on earth, where God’s rule is recognised:

• Where God’s commands are lived graciously (Matt 5:19)

• Where greatness is measured in servanthood and humility (Matt 18:3)

• Where justice and mercy dominate all human relationships (Matt 18:23-35)

• Where there is peace between all people (Matt 5:3-10)

The Kingdom of heaven is seen wherever the curse is undone and sin overcome (Col 3:1-17). It is seen as God’s people live his ways, announcing his good news, and living his new good.

We know that until Jesus returns, the efforts of his people to live his new life will be imperfect and incomplete. Even so, such efforts are natural and normal for those people in whom Jesus lives by his Spirit.

The second thing we note about ‘heaven’ in the Scriptures is that the emphasis is not primarily on what God’s people receive, but on God’s acts to restore of all things.
God’s Big Picture is to bring this restoration completely, powerfully, wonderfully and eternally through Jesus Christ the Lord. So much so that human rebellion, sin, grief and the fall will be completely done away with forever.

The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin … God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall. [Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p.275]

God’s restoration will be universal and cosmic in its scope, including all reality, physical and spiritual.

There are some important considerations here, and the first is that when heaven, God’s restoration of all things, is in view the Bible does not speak about the removal of physical reality. This is surprise to many people in the western world.

The reason many think that heaven will a disembodied existence, with harps and wings and clouds is not because they have been influenced by the Bible, but because they have been influenced by ancient Greek thought. Greek gnostic thinking held that the closer to got to the divine, the more physical things would be left behind, and the more spirit focussed we would become.

Admittedly, we do have references like 2 Cor 5:8, which talk about being away from the body and at home with the Lord. But these refer to the spiritual state believers enter on death, before Jesus’ return.

The ‘heaven’ we are talking about today is the heaven after Jesus has returned and restored all things when all creation will sing “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

The restoration to come under Jesus is not the destruction and removal of everything physical, but the destruction and removal of everything sinful and fallen. So, when we read about the earth being purged with fire (2 Pet 3) we are not reading about the destruction of the earth because it is physical. We are reading about the cleansing of the earth that is opposed to Christ and his rule.

In the language of the NT, heaven cannot be a place of disembodied existence. We see this first and foremost in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was not raised simply as soul or spirit, but as a complete ‘true man, true God’ person: body, soul, spirit.

This is the truth confessed all through the ages:

I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy catholic church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body
and the life everlasting

[The Apostles’ Creed]

NT Wright observes:

If the resurrection is an event that actually occurred in time and space, as well as in the material reality of Jesus’ body, it has implications for other events that must follow.

Indeed it does. Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection is the first fruit of restored reality. The entire universe, recreated.

Finally, the NT teaches that when Jesus returns, his restoration will involve the coming together of heaven and earth.

The Apostle John sees this vividly:

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”” (Revelation 21:1–4, NIV)

It is nothing less than the coming of an entirely transformed existence, a new universe:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1–5, NIV)

In this restored creation, all sin is gone, the curse has been conquered, and the tree of life – once barred to humanity in Eden – is now fully available to all.

John adds:

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22, NIV)

In the Old Testament, the Temple was a sign of God’s presence with his people. But in God’s restored reality, God’s presence does not need to be signified, because he is with his people at last, and they are with him.

What God started in a garden, He recreates to become a city of light. It is a glorious climax to the life restoring redemptive plan of an all loving and all powerful God – praise His Holy Name!

That the new heavens and the new earth has this physical aspect is troubling to some, and the question naturally arises whether all this physical imagery is just symbolic.
The problem with the symbolic approach is that Scripture is replete with this picture, and some of the most stunning examples are found in Isaiah 60.

We read of a place which will be visited by nations and kings,

Of seas, and boats. Of herds of livestock,

Where exiled peoples come home to a place of freedom and splendour,

Were there is such safety that doors stay open and locks are thrown away

Of glorious natural beauty and majesty

Where violence is non existent

Where the weak are strong and the insignificant are lifted up in honour.

And just in case we doubt whether this could ever happen, the chapter finishes with an eyeball to eyeball guarantee:

“…I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.”” (Isaiah 60:22, NIV)

So, God’s restoration will reunite heaven (where God dwells) and earth (where humanity dwells).

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3, NIV)

The enmity and separation brought by human rebellion and the fall, the alienation of humanity from God will be completely overcome! Eden is gloriously restored, and everything is ‘very good’ for all eternity.

This is where we are headed, friends! This is the great plan of God: once for all to deal with human sin and rebellion, and restore all things to their rightful place in and under Christ. This restoration is focussed on the glory of our great God and the overwhelming victory he will bring. Those who once were rebels, now raised in Christ, will rule on his new earth, and the glory of the Lord, the profound peace of God – His Shalom – will rule from sea to sea.

Imagine…

Marriages without arguments (I know Jesus says people will neither marry nor be given in marriage – but you know what I mean: harmonious life, peaceful relationships, no more misunderstandings).

No more depression or mental illness.

No more guns and war.

No more fear at night.

No more terror. No more hatred.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

[John Lennon, 1971]

It’s such a deeply help human wish, that even those far from God find themselves dreaming about it.

Living in the ‘not yet’ with our eyes on God’s forever

God’s restoration of heaven and earth is the ultimate reason to live for him and praise him! This vision draws us into a rich hope, a hope which the Bible says, does not disappoint. It is the best motivation to trust God, to offer him our heart, to ask him to rule our lives!

But we are not there yet. This is why we are people of faith and hope. Following Jesus does not take us out of the world: it send us into it. Not to adopt its values, but to transform them (Rom 12:1-2).

CS Lewis once said “Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

What he is saying is we will only find fulfilment as the values of God’s new creation shape everything we do. As new creation we announce the good news and we live the new good.

How important for us to do this! We have seen much terrible news these last weeks. Whole groups of people, some of them Christians, gunned down by ISIS extremists.

ISIS believe their task is to extend the Kingdom of Allah by force. Use guns and swords and tanks to subjugate people. And those who do not comply, put them to death. That kingdom expands through terror, bloodshed and fear.

God’s Kingdom, God’s restoration, does not come by terror, or violence or human power. It comes by resurrection, selflessness, and the spirit of the servant, Jesus.

God’s Kingdom, God’s restoration, does not come by terror, or violence or human power. It comes by resurrection, selflessness, and the spirit of the servant, Jesus.

“…Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

Jesus’ rule is extended by grace and love. Through the sacrifice of the cross, and the resurrection life of Jesus coming to expression as he rules human lives. While we wait for the ultimate restoration, we live its life now. Doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven so people everywhere will see men, women, children, communities changed by Jesus.

“No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:22–25, NIV)

This is God’s Big Picture. This is the core message of Christianity. In Jesus, God is dealing with human rebellion, our alienation from our creator, the brokenness of our world. In and through Jesus God will restore it all. Read to the end of the book, and you will see that we win.

This is the reality we are headed toward. There are may questions. Some we can answer, some we cannot answer. The biggest question of all, however, is this: Will you be there?

Jesus declares to us and assures us that he is the way, the truth the life. Anyone can come to the Father through him.

This glorious restoration, the glory of God, is reason alone to do just that. To trust him, to honour him, to live for him.

Dealing with Disaster (Group Questions)

Discuss:

Share your thoughts about how the tragic events of the last few weeks have impacted you. How have these events influenced your prayer life?

Read Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism: What strikes you about this personal assertion of God’s providence?

Read Psalm 46

Think of a time when life was hard for you or your loved ones. Was it apparent that God was your fortress? What impact did this have – positively or negatively – on how you managed that challenge?

What would the writer of Psalm 46 have to say to those who hold that God’s blessing is measured in health, wealth and prosperity?

In times of tragedy and trial we will often say ‘God will work things out for our good.” Is this what Romans 8:28 actually says? Who are the “those” in the phrase “the good of those who love him”?

What does Genesis 50:15-21 tell us about divine sovereignty and human responsibility?

Are you ‘a person of the problem’ or a ‘person of the solution’? How is this seen in your behaviour?

Read Matthew 5:13-16. List the things your church is doing to be ‘a community of the solution’ addressing suffering in your local community.

Read the full text of “Dealing with Disaster: Where is God in tragedy?” here

Dealing with Disaster: Where is God in tragedy?

Read: Psalm 46

Images

A grandfather boards a plane with three young grandchildren. This is an adventure! The kids are incredibly excited!

Arjen and Yvonne Ryder are travelling home. They are keen to see their children and reconnect with their church community.

Six others traveling to an HIV conference in Melbourne, include Joep Lange who has dedicated his life to find a cure for HIV and to relive the suffering of those who have the disease.

On July 17 their plane was blown out of the sky. All 298 people died instantly.

Ismail, Ahed, Zakaria, Mohammed and Sayed live in a poor Gaza neighbourhood. Their play is simple. One hot day the boys run down to the beach, hoping for relief from the heat and from the rockets which slam incessantly into their neighbourhood.

While the boys are at the beach, a rocket slams into a shipping container on the nearby break wall. Petrified, the boys run for their lives. A second rocket targets them, and seconds later four of them are blown to bits. The fifth escapes with serious injuries.

Near Aleppo, Syria, six men once followed Islam. Recently ISIS extremists captured them, charged them with apostasy, and publicly crucified them.

We are people who follow Jesus. How do we deal with such evil?

God’s Word

God’s people have wrested with that confronting question all through the ages. They have seen slavery in Egypt. Exile in Babylon. Persecution of the early church. More currently eviction and persecution of Iraqi Christians under threat of death.

It all seems a world away from suburban Australia. Ours is a peaceful country, possibly the best in the world. We have ice cream in our freezers, iPhones in our pockets, we plan our holidays and leisure pursuits.

These terrible events invade our comfort. And the greatest temptation is simply to push them away. We escape into the screen. We get out with friends. We grab some food. We create a diversion to escape the world of horror and evil.

One writer says

We cannot and we must not soften the blow; we cannot and we must not pretend that evil is not that bad after all

(NT Wright: Evil and the Justice of God, p.20)

So, if we are not to soften the blow, how do we deal with it? How does God’s word help us?

Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism opens our minds to the whole sweep of Scripture with a daring assertion: even in the face of evil, God is sovereign, in control of all things, and loving toward all he has made.
Q&A 27

Q: What do you understand by the providence of God?


A: Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God
by which God upholds, as with his hand,
heaven and earth and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty
—all things, in fact,
come to us not by chance
but by his fatherly hand.

But wait: we are talking about MH17, about ISIS crucifixions – did these really come from God’s fatherly hand? Well, God did not do those acts of evil. They were done at the hands of people, people committing crimes against humanity.

But by the same token, they were not acts of chance, or random forces operating outside the mysterious sovereign will of God.

I don’t know how to explain this. But I do know that if there are things outside God’s power he is not much of a God. If there are things in our world over which he has no control he is not worth believing.

But this is not the testimony of God we read in the Bible. Scripture teaches this sovereign God remains passionately and compassionately involved in our world and our lives.

Scripture teaches this sovereign God remains passionately and compassionately involved in our world and our lives.

So we are left with a tension: people are fully responsible for their behaviour. God is fully sovereign over his world and our lives.

We understand there is great mystery here.

Truth is, there are some things we may never be able to understand. Even in eternity we will know fully, but we will not be omniscient. We will stay human, and God will stay God.

Jesus reminds us that despite these mysteries, despite the limitations of human understanding, our loving God stands above all our woes. That his sovereign grace and almighty power is our only hope.

This God knows what we need:

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25–33, NIV)

Jesus reminds us that despite these mysteries, despite the limitations of human understanding, our loving God stands above all our woes. That his sovereign grace and almighty power is our only hope.

We see the same in Psalm 46. This Psalm is a voice of hope and trust in the midst of dark threat and danger.

Let’s go there…

vv.1-3 This Psalmist reminds us that anything can happen. Even the unthinkable: mountains fall into the sea; the earth gives way. In this very context we hear the voice of faith:

But we will not fear!

There are shades of Daniel in the lion’s den, or the three in the fiery furnace: When God is our refuge, our strength, whom – or what – shall we fear?

vv.4-7 God is with us, and his presence is our protection. “God with us!” That tiny word ‘with’, when the Lord is the subject, is an indicator of covenant language and a signpost to his covenant faithfulness. The promise that God will be with his people is grounded deeply in his eternal promises.

“I will be with you” the Lord said, and led his people through the Red Sea with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. This God, Jacob’s God, is our mighty fortress.

But what, then, of Arjen and Yvonne Ryder?

Or Joep Lange?

Or any of the other 295 people on board MH 17?

A missile blew up their plane!

How could God be their fortress?

Well, Christians believe there is life, an existence with God that even a surface to air missile cannot take away. Those who trust in Jesus have an enduring hope in a glorious promise:

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NIV)

It was this hope which prompted Daniel’s friends, when threatened with death in the furnace, to say that whether they survived or perished in the flames they would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Daniel 3:16-18). They knew, they trusted, they believed in the reality of life with God beyond physical death.

vv.8-9 Christians believe God will one day bring an end to warfare, to terrorism, to missiles, to grief and suffering.

“God will one day restore creation so the dark and threatening sea of chaos will be no more”
(NT Wright)

On that day they will beat their tanks into carousels, and their guns into bakery equipment.

This is no cliché. This is truth. This is where our world is heading, friends: a day is coming when God will put all things to right.

How do these truths impact God’s people?

v.10 “Be still, and know that I am God”

Cease striving.

Stop railing against it all.

Don’t let bitterness take root.

Stop hassling about ‘why?’ and concentrate on ‘what’.

Not: ‘why did this happen’

But: ‘as people who know the love and mercy of Jesus, what do we need to do to bring the grace of God’s kingdom to expression in this situation?’

Be still. Know that he is God.

And you are not. You are human. You cannot work this out. No one can.

No, God is not the author of evil. He sent Jesus to break the back of evil and to triumph over it.

And a day is coming when this Jesus will bring his world to rights. He will recreate it and bring it back to shalom, so that it will all be ‘very good’ once more.

A day is coming when those who fire missiles at kids on a beach will stand before the King of Heaven and Earth and give account for what they have done.

A day is coming when those who fired that missile at a plane full of scientists, families, couples, and children will give an account.

It is possible that human investigations into the incident may fail. The perpetrators might not ever be identified.

But God knows who they are, and they will answer before him.

A day is coming when ISIS extremists will stand before the Great King, and made to give an account for their violence.

There is One Judge who will act with justice. No one will miss out on that.

v.11 And so the Psalm’s refrain again: “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:11, NIV)

Your ultimate hope comes from relationship with the Lord Almighty. You are called to reach out to Jesus, who promised “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This truth is no guarantee that we will never have any troubles, or that we will be spared tragedy and grief.

But we know, with the Psalmist, and with the writers of Lord’s Day 10, that it is in the crucible of grief that the strongest trust and confidence on the Lord is formed.

Take heart friends. You are not at the mercy of random forces of evil. You are in the hands of the living God, our sovereign Lord.

Answering the inevitable questions

But having said that, how do we answer the questions people ask? What can we say about all this?

First: Admit your ignorance. There are some things we just don’t know.

We don’t have all the answers. No one does. To admit this is to admit our humanity.
Try and say otherwise, or cover your ignorance, and people will know you’re faking it. And rightly so.

Second: Psalm 23 reminds us that even as we walk through the valley of death and grief, we know the Lord is with us.

You will notice the Psalm does not say we’ll be miraculously transported to the beautiful mountain top and start soaring with the eagles. We stay in the valley. The grief and suffering remain. The comfort is our God is not unaware or unmoved by our struggle. His rod and staff – his guidance and protection – comfort us. He is with us. Always. His Spirit, the Comforter, lives in us, experiencing with us all our struggle and pain. Our God is not unaware or uninvolved in our lives when tragedy or grief comes our way.

Third: The reality of suffering and pain challenges how we look at our world.

Tragedy is its own preacher: reminding us that despite all our advances and all our knowledge, we are small, and ignorant, and totally dependent on our living Lord.

Tragedy is its own motivator: drawing out of complacency. It drives us toward a better world, a greater story, a narrative – a view of life which can give us hope. This is why were are currently working through the Foundations Series: we want to understand our world, and how God’s plan in Jesus enables us to live as his new people.

Fourth: there is a greater tragedy, a greater evil than any warfare or act of aggression between people.

It happened 2000 years ago, when the Son of God was put to death on a torturous Cross.
This innocent Saviour died in the place of guilty rebels.

He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was laid upon his shoulders. By his suffering, we were healed.

In which other life context would you want another person to take your punishment? To suffer for your wrongs?

In that sense, the Cross of Jesus is the deepest and most appalling of injustices. In another sense through this greatest of evil, King Jesus conquered:

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15, NIV)

This Jesus promises the comfort of his grace and the presence of His spirit to all who call on him. This Victor, the great Overcomer, is with you, and he will give you strength to cope with life’s sharp and brutal edges. The Cross and the open tomb remind us that Jesus takes evil and turns it into something that results in good.

“We will not be delivered from suffering, but with God’s help we can be transformed by it”

(Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised)

Fifth: This Jesus will return, to throw evil, aggression, and its exceptionally ugly author into the abyss for all eternity.

We long for and pray for a world where there will be no more weeping, crying, mourning or pain. Where the old order of injustice and aggression will be no more. In all the grief of this world, we look to the new heavens and the new earth.

We do this not as a means of escape, or as reason to ignore the pain and grief around us. We look to the next world to filter and focus what we do in the here and now. We want to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We also look to the new heavens and the new earth in faith that Jesus is returning. He will make it right. He will bring his eternal shalom.

Sixth: everyone of us must ask: am I a person of the solution, or a person of the problem?

Ask yourself: am I ruled by Jesus, and so working to break down evil in my community? Am I working to relieve suffering in my world? Am I a man, a woman of peace? Am I a person of the solution or a person of the problem?

See, if you ignore the evil around you and in your community, if you turn a blind eye, you are part of the problem. The church is not called to turn a blind eye. The church is called to be light of the world right there where you are.

So, is my church community working hard to address the suffering in our own neighbourhood? Do we understand that God’s mission is to bring an end to evil and suffering? As his people, do we accept his mission? Will we align all we do to see that he is honoured, that we will follow his call, and do all we can to bring his kingdom to glorious expression in our locality?

In the face of terrible tragedy, know that God will contain evil, he will restrain evil, he will prevent it form doing its worst, and he will even use the malice, ignorance and stupidity of human beings to further his own sovereign purposes (NT Wright). This is our comfort.

And we know that God seeks to wipe away the tears of the suffering even in this life, to break the chains of injustice, and to bring evil to account.

He will do this through the power of his risen Son.

And he will do this as his Son rules his people.

People like us.

This is our great mission.

May God give us the grace, strength and courage to shoulder it.