I had dinner tonight at a strip mall that has three small restaurants next to each other and a large patio with lots of tables for outdoor dining. The patio was crowded with people eating, talking, laughing, and smoking. It reminded me of times I’ve been in Europe, eating at a street-side table in a busy city like Rome, London, or Paris.
Except in Paris tonight, no one is sitting outside enjoying an evening meal, some good conversation, and a little people-watching. In Paris tonight, there is a curfew. People have been told to stay in their homes, to keep off the streets. In Paris tonight, over one hundred people lie dead in a theater, in a restaurant, or outside a stadium, victims of at least six terrorist attacks across the City of Lights.
The people around me at the restaurant tonight seemed to care little for what was happening on the other side of the world, but I’m sure many people who have the news today paused at least once to ask, “Can it happen here? Are we safe here in the United States?”
Different people will answer that question differently. Some people believe in the power and might of the United States and think our enemies are too afraid to make a major terrorist strike here (another major strike, I should say, considering the loss of almost 3,000 American lives on 9/11/11). Others believe that the United States is under God’s protection, that he has promised a special blessing to this nation since its founding, so no great evil can happen here. Since 9/11/11, the number of people in both those groups has been dropping, especially the second one, but I think there are still some Christians out there who think God has a special plan for the United States because we are a “Christian nation” and it is our job to spread the blessings of Christianity throughout the world.
We should realize by now, if we have paid any attention to world news in the past year, that Christians are not immune from persecution and violence. Many who called themselves Christians have paid for that title with their lives – not just in the past year, but for the past two thousand years. God does not promise peace and protection to his followers. Obedience to his law is no guarantee of security. Not even if our whole nation were to seek God in humility and repentence could we hope to be safe from all harm threatened by foreign extremists or home-grown terrorists.
Isn’t that what the Bible promises, though? In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promised to heal the land of Israel, the people called by his name, if they would “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,” but that promise is not repeated in the New Testament. Jesus made a different promise: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Read Matthew 24:4–14 if you want to know what else Jesus said was going to happen at some point in the future. It isn’t a pretty picture, and Jesus made no exceptions about who would be affected by the dire events he foretold. He did make many other promises though, including to be with us until the end of the age and to prepare a new place for us beyond all the evils of this world.
So what do I think? I think what happened in Paris today can happen in the United States, and it probably will eventually. Our nation has made a lot of enemies, at least as many as France has, and there will always be limits to our national security. There is violence all around us, and illness, and accidents, and uncertainty. Our job is to stand firm in our faith, to trust God, to spread the gospel, and to live our lives according to God’s law – not to obtain security and peace here in this country or anywhere in this world, but to store up treasure in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal,” or where terrorists threaten and kill (Matthew 6:20).
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What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.