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Volume 13, Issue 4: Thema

Basic Issues

Before we take the risk of saying that this is God's hand, for this or that reason, we have to be confident that we are building on what Scripture actually says. Because so many contemporary Christians have neglected these foundational truths, it is not surprising that in times of crisis the house teeters and falls (Matt. 7:24_27). It is difficult to die well if you have been refusing to live well. It is hard to be wise at the last minute when folly has been the rule of life.

God's Sovereignty

We must first know that this disaster was in fact from the hand of God. Many Christians like to pretend that this is a reality that can be evaded, but "when disaster befalls a city, Amos asks, has not the Lord done it?" (Amos 3:6)
When disaster befalls a city, God is the One who was wielding the rod. When an earthquake happens, when a hurricane happens, when an act of war happens, these things are all from the hand of God. This does not mean when God uses human instruments that those instruments are not evil men. We see this throughout the Old Testament; God consistently uses evil men to accomplish His righteous purpose. Our God draws straight with crooked lines. So when we say that this is a judgment of God and that we must humble ourselves, this must not be taken in any way as approval of the madmen who perpetrated the outrage. These men were madmen; we are not approving of their idolatry. What we must say, however, is that God can use idolaters to judge other idolaters, and God consistently throughout His Word does this. And we wonder why didn't He use our idolatry to judge their idolatry. Perhaps at some future date He will do so. He is the Lord. But right now we have to face up to what He has done to us. When disaster befalls a city, the Lord is the One who has done it.
We are not permitted to adopt the theology of the foolish women that Job speaks of, receiving good things from God but refusing to acknowledge His judgments (Job 2:10). Job talked about those women— "Our God is the God of baskets of kittens, and our God is the God of pussywillows, and our God is the God of flowers, and our God is the God of nice things and sweet things, that's the God I worship." But if that is all He does, then He is an idol. We cannot refuse to acknowledge God's judgments. The Bible bluntly teaches, in many places, that when disaster befalls a city, it comes to that city from the hand of God. And yet still, the leadership of the modern evangelical church is recruited exclusively from the ranks of Job's foolish women.
This does not yet tell us why God has done this—that has to be discussed on other grounds—but we have to begin by acknowledging that He has done it, and that He has a reason for it. This is inescapable. When we say that this happened as a judgment, we are chided or rebuked for pretending to peer into the mind of God. But no one is rebuked for saying that God did all this to "bring us together." We all assign meaning to events, and if we believe in God, the meaning we assign is assumed to be His doing. But when we assign meaning, we have to be careful to do so in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. Where in Scripture does God visit disaster upon a people to "bring them together"? And how many countless times does He visit judgment to bring them to repentance?
But contemporary contours-of-former-evangelicalism wants to pretend that these things cannot be so. It disturbs the carnal mind. And where would contemporary Christianity be if we started allowing the carnal mind to be disturbed? Attendance might drop.
We have only two options. Either our most wise and kind Father decreed before the foundations of the world to have those madmen in the cockpits of the airliners crash into the Towers and the Pentagon, for purposes of His own, in accordance with the good counsel of His will, or He was trapped in the back of the airliners with the other hapless passengers.
Fortunately, we do not have to base what we think about this on the airy speculations of human thinkers. God tells us, time and again, that He controls all things for His glory. Not a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from the Father. But contemporary evangelical unbelief says that while sparrows cannot fall without the decree of God, airliners can—and often do.
Some try to get away from the comforting truth that God is completely in control by accusing those who hold to this truth of being bitter, critical, sectarian, and harsh. But whatever the faults of the messengers, and they are many—more than we can know—the message remains the same. Disaster cannot befall a city outside the determinations of the Most High God. If God is God, He was not helplessly standing by. He did this thing, using wicked men for His holy purposes.
So our starting point in seeking to understand this particular judgment must therefore be to acknowledge and worship the God of heaven. If we do not, then everything we say and do will blur into nonsense—as thus far it has done.
Most Christians do not have a problem in acknowledging God's control over the physical creation. He knows and directs the atoms that make up the planet Jupiter. But we also have to include two other areas that give us the most problems. Does God also control the free actions of human beings, and does God control their sinful and wicked actions? The biblical answer to both questions is yes.
First, God controls free actions.
But Micaiah said, "If you ever return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me." And he said, "Take heed, all you people!" Now a certain man drew a bow at random, and struck the King of Israel between the joints of his armor. So he said to the driver of his chariot, "Turn around and take me out of the battle, for I am wounded." (1Kings 22:28,34)
In this situation, God had said that something would occur. He then used the random act of an unknown archer to accomplish His purpose for Ahab.
"Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass" (Job 14:5). Until the time of death comes, which God has established, every man is "immortal." As far as God's determination is concerned, we cannot lengthen and we cannot shorten our lives. Humanly speaking, can we? Of course. We can smoke cigarettes and play on the freeway. But our folly will not alter God's decree—whatever we do will be His instrument for accomplishing His decree. We have the same teaching in Psalm 139:16 in different words. Before we existed, our biographies were written.
"The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord" (Prov. 16:1). What is more indicative of a man's freedom than that which he wills to speak? When you ask me a question, I answer you the way I wish. Is God somewhere else? No. Now the reason we have a problem with God's control of free actions is that we do not want to say that men are nothing more than puppets. But the assumption of "puppetry" is a false inference and is one that Scripture does not make.
Our holy God also perfectly controls sinful and wicked actions, including the actions that led to the destruction of the World Trade Towers. And this is the other reason that many want to reject what the Bible says about God's control of sin. We tend to assume, without scriptural support, that this would make God sinful, or the author of sin. First, the plain teaching of Scripture:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Gen. 50:20; cf. Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6)
Jesus said to him, `Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.' (Mark 14:30)
And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed! Luke (22:22)
For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. (Acts 4:27-28)
God, all good, all wise, controlled perfectly (for His own holy purposes) the sale of Joseph, the denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, and the predestined murder of His own beloved Son. This being the case, God also controlled, directed, predestined, for His own wise and holy purposes, this attack on us.
We must always remember that the objections which crowd into our minds are not textual objections—they are philosophical and amateurish. Nowhere does the Bible say anything like, "Thus says the Lord, `Do not think or say in your hearts that the Lord God controls the behavior of the wicked, for I, the Lord your God, am a holy God'" (Jehoshaphat 8:2). The Bible says in many places that God controls wicked men for His own righteous purposes—think of the crucifixion of Jesus!—and it never even hints that such a control would be somehow contaminating for Him.
Biblically speaking, this understanding of God's sovereign control does not destroy the freedom of the will, but rather establishes it. But it does destroy a certain idolatrous definition of free will. Where Scripture has spoken, we must bow down. And if any hidden idol forbids it, we must topple that idol.
When the biblical vision of this doctrine is given to us, it opens up a world of sweet consolations—and this is good because we live in a world where very hard things happen, as these horrific events illustrate very well.
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, "So where is their God?" But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them. (Ps. 115:1-8)
Given the sovereignty of the true God, we really only have two choices. Either we worship God as He has revealed Himself, or we turn to the worship of idols. When we do that, we are on the road to darkness and confusion of mind. And this is what lies behind the great folly evident in how we as a people have sought to understand this event.
What is the point of religion? Glory is to go, not to us, but to His name. Idolatry always winds up somehow giving honor and glory to man. We know from the Catechism that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But this is true because it is also God's chief end. "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? `Father, save Me from this hour?' But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came from heaven, saying, `I have both glorified it and will glorify it again'" (John 12:27-28).
The unbelievers say to us, "Where is your God?" They may taunt us, but we reply, "Where is He not?" Enthroned in heaven, He does whatever He pleases, in heaven and on earth. This is the only answer we can give which does not reduce our God to the same level, in principle, as their idols. Idols are externally constrained; our God is not constrained by anything other than His own righteous and holy pleasure.
Contrast this with the idols—they cannot see, speak, hear, smell, handle, or walk despite their sense organs. Our God has none of the organs, but all of the functions. He has no eyes, and sees everything. He has no ears, and hears all.
And so we see the final end of idolatry—as an idol is blind and deaf and dumb, so are those who serve such idols. There is always a family resemblance between the god and the worshiper of that god. So just as we should not expect an idol to see, neither should we expect an idolater to see. Only God can make an idolater see. In the aftermath of this disaster, the merest suggestion that America is idolatrous has brought forth severe responses. When Jerry Falwell said that this was (in part) a judgment, he did not go nearly far enough in his assessment, and he did not include his own compromises, but the reaction to him was still swift and fierce. Americans do not want even a hint of the possibility of judgment—we hate the very idea of it. But that will not keep it from coming. Idolators are blind, just like their blind gods, and they are hollow, just like their hollow gods. Of course idolaters hate the idea of judgment—how could they do otherwise?
The true God does as He pleases in the good things, and He does as He pleases in the hard things. This is an important mark of true piety—we must always remember to thank God for our food, and drink, and marital love, and health—the continued list of God's blessings to us is greater than we can even imagine. But our duties here are obvious. For what we receive, we do give thanks. But we also live in a world where wicked things happen, and we profess to serve a good God who is omnipotent. We must undertake to think like Christians and stand up to the implications.
The heart of our faith, the center of it, is the death of Jesus Christ, which was nothing less than a predestined murder (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). And yet it was the greatest act of love our world ever saw. When Job was severely afflicted by Satan, Job attributed it all to God. When his wife wanted him to curse God and die, he said her theology was like that of the foolish women (2:10), and in saying this he did not sin with his lips.
Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? (Lam. 3:37-38)
But here is our problem: this teaching is an important part of God's Word, it is part of the "whole counsel of God." The fact that the Church at large has neglected this truth, or has refused to believe it, does not just result in an unfortunate ignorance. The unfortunate ignorance leads to other things. Paul says this: "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). Because Paul taught plainly the Word of God, the way it was given, he was innocent of the blood of all men. As we see the judgments of God taking shape, this is not something the contemporary evangelical church can say. We are not innocent of the blood of all men precisely because of what we refuse to teach.

The Judgments of God

The sovereignty of God is important to understand in a general way, but it is also necessary to understand it in the specifics. This sovereign God acts in the world, and He expects us to understand the nature of what He is doing. The acts of God in history are not by definition inscrutable. If a man skins his knee, and determines that this was the direct result of some lust he indulged in three days before, he is of course claiming to know more of the mind of God than he can know. But if a man decides that he has just been fired from the third job in a row because of his own sinful laziness, he is making a repentant decision well within his competence to make. How does this apply to nations? The theologians who gave us the Westminster Confession spoke to this issue wisely in their Directory for Worship.
When some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extra-ordinary provocations notoriously deserved . . . public solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.
And this is what we are dealing with here—extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved. Those who are accustomed to flatter themselves will never see this, but such flattery does nothing to avert the judgments. Our God is truly God, and He is never God at a distance. Our God intervenes in this world, always bringing glory to Himself. And this horror is no exception.
But before we consider the ways in which America is being judged by God, we have to make one qualification. After the initial shock of the disaster, we began to hear from the secular, leftist, blame-America-first crowd that wants to say that America had it coming because of insufficient adherence to the dictates of the Left. In effect, these people think that America was struck because of some of her few remaining virtues. With this notion of the disaster as a political judgment, we have nothing to do.
We can first consider the perpetrators—these terrorist idolaters were fully convinced, according to their false and damnable religion, that they were doing the will of Allah. After all, does not the Koran say to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem?" (9:5) Does not the Koran say that if someone takes Christians or Jews for friends, he becomes one of them? (5:51) These men fully believed that they would pass through the fireball of the explosion and would enter into their storybook paradise, and houris would begin feeding them grapes. But to their everlasting horror, the fireball did not diminish or disappear. They are now where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched (Luke 16:23; Mark 9:43-50). God rules rightly. The Judge of the whole earth does right. These men have already entered into judgment. One of the things that has been said is that the perpetrators must be brought to justice. And every biblical Christian agrees that those involved who still remain alive must be brought to justice. But we sometimes forget that the immediate perpetrators have already met that justice. They have encountered God, and He is not their Allah, and He does have a Son, and they must deal with Him now.
But those who are lost are in no way limited to fanatical followers of Islam. We must also consider the unready slain who were victims of this attack. The slain must be considered in two categories. In times like this it is perilously easy to misplace the antithesis, thinking too simplistically that this is a simple battle of good and evil. It is the result of a battle between good and evil—but the lines are not defined by national identity. Those who have seen the footage watched thousands of people, in a matter of seconds, go to meet their God. Most of them were not the least bit prepared to do so.
How many people working in those Towers were planning their adulteries for that night? How many people in that building had pornography on their computers? How many people were living in the pride of life, as though God did not exist? The Bible says that there are six things that God hates, and seven are an abomination to Him. What are they? "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren" (Prov. 6:16_19). How many prideful looks were there? How many lies? How many had blood on their hands? How many with wicked imaginations? How many feet swift for mischief? How many sowers of discord? God hates it all. Most of these people were not at all ready to meet God—and yet they did. And there is no need to repent of our adulteries, we are told, because as congressmen and the media tell us ad nauseam, "everyone does it." Everyone violates the most basic oaths, and yet remains mysteriously immune from judgment. Just like magic.
The fanatical Muslims who did this wicked thing believed in effect that they had an automatic ticket to paradise if they died in the course of their jihad. But in our unbelief we do the same thing. Humanistic religion loves to pronounce salvation indiscriminately, and with as little biblical basis. Victims of such an attack are simply assumed to be in heaven—if there is a heaven. Complacent relativistic Americans therefore need to do the same thing that every Muslim, moderate or radical, must also do, and that is repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What of our brothers and sisters who were caught in this? They thought that they were going to have another day shuffling papers at the Pentagon, or working in their office at the Towers, and they began the day doing just that. They ended the day in the blessed presence of God. There is salvation in this twisted world, and that salvation is through Jesus Christ, and only through Jesus Christ. This is what Christians believe. Christians don't believe that you can throw it all in the pot and just call it all good. Faithful Christians are not polytheists.
But American evangelicals have drifted into polytheism because they have abandoned their confessional and historical heritage. The Christian faith teaches there is one God, the triune God of Scripture, and we come to know God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Salvation through the gospel is not a vain hope. Many among those slain were followers of Jesus Christ, and their hope was in Him. For the godly slain, we have true hope and comfort. The last words of Todd Beamer on the telephone, just before he and three others jumped the hijackers, was an indication of true faith and godly heroism. "God help me, Jesus help me, let's roll!" So in the gospel, we may find true comfort. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). Many brothers and sisters were caught in this crossfire, and the fury of Islamic idolatry sent them into glory sooner than we had believed they would go. But we are not without God, without hope in the world. Christians grieve, but not with a worldly sorrow that leads only to death. Our brothers and sisters now live in a place without weeping, without terror, without loss, and where death cannot come. And, God be praised, they are in a place where the worship is never conducted in a pantheon.
For those remaining alive, we must remember the text quoted earlier. "Except ye repent. . ." Jesus Christ spoke these words a generation before the desolation of Jerusalem. He prophecied this desolation in great detail, and declared that it was coming within a generation. Those killed by Pilate, and those on whom the tower of Siloam fell, were simply the firstfruits of a coming judgment, far more devasting. Take heed, the Lord was saying. Pay attention. Those who died early did not deserve to die any more than anyone else in Jerusalem. The fact that others had something of a respite did not mean that God's anger was turned away from them. Far from it.
In another place Jesus rebuked those who could read weather patterns, but could not interpret the times (Matt. 16:3). But today we find many Christians leaders maintaining that we have a positive duty to refuse to interpret the times. But judgments from God occur in the world, and we are to be men of Issachar, understanding the times, knowing what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12:32). We must not make facile judgments, like Job's friends (Job 42:7), or like the disciples who wanted to know why a man was born blind (John 9:2). But because such judgments are necessary, we must make them in humility and all wisdom. This means, in the first place, submission to Scripture.
We are commanded to understand the times by God. God gives covenant blessings and covenant curses, and calls us to understand them. A man reaps what he sows. So while we cannot speak as infallible prophets, we do have to understand how to respond to what He is doing. He does not want us to repent because we have examined the tea leaves. He does not want us to repent because we went to the horoscope. He wants us to repent because this shook us up and it drove us back to the Scriptures. And then we read in the Scriptures that there are certain things that followers of God are not to do, and so we must repent of doing them.
So as we consider what Scripture teaches about God's anger and wrath, we must take note of His holiness first. Otherwise, we will interpret His wrath as caprice, or loss of temper. "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct . . ."(1 Pet. 1:15). Because God is holy, His wrath is unlike ours (James 1:19-20). We are sometimes told in the same breath about the wrath of God and our duty to avoid fleshly wrath. "Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth" (Col. 3:6-8). God's wrath, like God, is entirely holy.
With this holiness in mind, we have to come to grips with the reality of wrath. We are not told that we all deserve judgment, but that no one ever catches it—quite the opposite.Idolaters "said to the mountains and rocks, `Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'" (Rev. 6:16-17; Rev. 14:19; 19:15-16). God's wrath happens in real time to real people.
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Eph. 5:5-7)
In addition, we are told to flee from the wrath to come (Luke 3:7).We are to take refuge from God in God. He is our salvation, but He is also the one from whom we must be saved. Convicted of this, we take refuge in Christ. "And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10). "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Rom. 5:9). "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
We have seen that God is sovereign over all things, including calamities such as this, and that He is a holy and righteous Judge. With this providing a backdrop, let us consider what our first religious response to this disaster actually was.

The National Pantheon

In the aftermath of this devasting blow from Him, what did we as a nation decide to do? There are different ways to identify the gods of any given culture. One is to look to the source of that culture's law—their understanding of why certain things are right and wrong. But another way is to see who men call upon in times of crisis. This is what the sailors expected Jonah to do (Jon. 1:6).
In the aftermath of this horrendous judgment, when we all should have stopped our mouths and glorified the true and living God, what did we actually do? This response of ours was the worst thing that happened in that awful week. God struck at our idols and so what did we do? We turned to some more idols. We turned the National Cathedral into a pantheon.
Right after the time of the New Testament, one of the early responses of Rome to the monotheistic worship of Christians was the offer by an emperor to take a statue of Jesus Christ and put it in the Roman Pantheon. Pantheon means "all the gods." All the gods were there, an ecumenical jamboree. What an offer. "We'll put a statue of Jesus Christ up along all the other gods." The early Christians were not persecuted because they worshipped Jesus Christ. The Romans couldn't have cared less whether you worshipped Jesus Christ. What they insisted upon, however, was that for the good of their society—for the good of the people—you must also acknowledge the other gods. And the early Christians refused to acknowledge the other gods. That's what got these faithful Christians into trouble. They refused to burn incense to Caesar, they refused to render divine honors to Caesar, they refused to bow down to the other idols. The early Christians were persecuted, not because they worshipped Jesus Christ, but because they refused divine honors to anyone other than Jesus Christ. This is because we come to God the Father through Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me." Faithful Christians believe this. Unfaithful Christians do not. We are not like those early Christians—we've come a long way, baby.
So a service of worship was held in our National Cathedral, and it was a polytheistic worship service. The bishop of the Cathedral, a woman named Jane Dixon, welcomed everyone, and made it perfectly clear what was being done—what the service of worship meant. She said, on behalf of those gathered that, "Muslim, Jew, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, all people of faith" were all there to make it plain to the world that "love was stronger than hate," and that the Cathedral was "indeed a house of prayer for all people." In short, she made it plain that the Cathedral was a pantheon, and temple for all the gods. She said these things in her role as the Bishop of Washington.
Next was the Dean of the Pantheon, the Very Reverend Nathan Baxter, who gave the invocation. And to whom was he praying? The Great HodgePodge in the Sky, apparently. "God of Abraham, Mohammed, and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we are today a people of heavy and distraught hearts . . ." He was right, but not the wayhe understood it. Our hearts are heavy, but the problem is not the disaster, or the aftermath of it.
For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Matt. 13:15)
Of course, the Mohammed mentioned here taught that there is one God, Allah, and that He has no Son. John the apostle taught us that anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father (1 John 2:22-23). These are not what a man would call reconcilable positions. But the Very Reverend Nathan Baxter knows better than this, and prays to the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ, as well as being the God who has no Son—all in the name of bringing light and clarity to a difficult situation. "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father" (1 John 2:22-23).
After a solo of "America the Beautiful," the prayer was offered up by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, an imam with the Islamic Society of North America. This was followed by a conveniently edited Scripture reading from Lamentations by Rabbi Joshua Haberman. He is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Washington Hebrew Congregation. He read from Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33, but it would have been good had he chosen to read on just a little bit further.
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. (Lam. 3:37-41)
Then, after a Scripture reading by the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of a United Methodist Church in Houston, and the Gospel reading by His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, the central compromise occurred. Remember, we have already included all religions, we have had the invocation given by an imam, we have had the Scripture reading by the rabbi. In this confused and idolatrous context, the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham delivered the sermon. The National Cathedral, in a highly visible way, was transformed into the National Pantheon, with all the necessary gods invoked, and the Rev. Billy Graham preached the consecration sermon. We evangelicals did not take the divisive and trouble-making approach used by the early Christians. "It's all good," we say. "Let's keep those lions hungry."
As we ponder the stupifying meaning of all this, it would be good to recognize that the only reason a priest of Baal was not there was simply because the worship of Baal does not have a large enough constituency to attract the attentions of our politicians. But if we had serious Baal worship in this country, they would have been involved in the worship service too, and there would have been no way for the Rev. Billy Graham to stick at it. He would have done just what he did on that black Friday the 14th—in effect denying the gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he would have done so, and the evangelical church at large would also have done just what they did on the 14th of September—which is, not notice that anything important had happened.
At this service, Dr. Graham said that God understands our being angry with Him. But the thing that does not seem to have occurred to anyone is whether God's anger with us is understandable as well. Perhaps that is what going on? "Oh, no, no, that couldn't be it—we are decent bunch more or less. What's million or so aborted babies a year between a people and their God?"
A leading evangelical spokesman had this opportunity to speak to four presidents and a grieving nation. He had the opportunity to present something other than his watered-down gospel. He had the opportunity to say, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." But that's not what he said. He said God understands if you are angry with Him. And by implication we must put out of our minds the unedifying prospect that God might be angry with us.
The gospel is that which delivers us from the wrath that is to come; the gospel delivers us from God's anger with us. And we have so warped and twisted the gospel in our sugary pop-evangelical way that we have said that the central thing we have to realize is how can we get sinners to accept God. But we shouldn't care whether sinners want to accept God or not; sinners want to accept God sinfully. If they didn't want to accept Him sinfully, they wouldn't be sinners. The real issue, and the problem that the New Testament solves, is how can we get God to accept sinners. It is not how can we get sinners to stop being angry with God; rather, how can we get God to stop being angry with sinners? And the answer to that question is the cross of Jesus Christ. The answer to that question is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But we evangelicals are corrupt, our spokesmen are corrupt, our prophets are corrupt, our Christian television and radio stations are corrupt, our worship services are corrupt—we are the problem here. "We have met the enemy," Pogo prophetically said, "and he is us."
We are the ones who have the Bible. We should know better. We should be able to read our Bibles, we should be able to tell the people who are bewildered out there what's going on. But no—we are as muddled and as drunk as the rest of them.
For a number of years, serious Christian thinkers have been pointing out the incipient idolatry in so much of what passes for evangelical Christianity—the cushy worship services, the will worship, the stoking of human emotions as though that were true worship—and the response has been that they are just so many gnat-stranglers, and so forth. But now our leading evangelical spokesman participates in a joint worship service with Muslims and Jews. And those who object clearly must have a critical spirit. Can't we all hold hands and think happy thoughts? Doesn't this just go to show us how doctrine divides, and how Christ—whoever He used to be—unites?
How did we get here? How is this possible? And, given that it is more than possible—afterall, it happened —why do we assume that those Christians who miss the significance of this are somehow wise enough to assure us that only a theological incompetent would say that God could be judging America? Right—like that pantheon service was a model of theological competence? Our heart has truly waxed gross. We hold a national worship service that can only be described as a theological crapfest, and more faux-evangelicals will be distraught over the use of crapfest than are upset by the worship of other gods. But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.
It should be obvious that the problem with America lies within the Church. We are the reason the nation is under this judgment. The judgments have been building up over the course of the last generation—abortion on demand does not just bring judgment, such abortion is a judgment. God has struck us with a frenzy, and we kill our children, calling it freedom of choice. Sodomy is the same kind of thing—the Bible describes it as the wrath of God revealed from heaven, and God gives men up. When God does this, it is a display of His wrath, and it results in gay-pride marches in broad daylight.
It is crucial for us to realize this. Before we can possibly see and understand judgments in the traditional fire-from-the-sky sense, we have to understand these stealth judgments—judgments in which God struck a people with profound moral confusion. When these judgments arrived, men forgot how to make love to their wives, and parents refused to nurture their babies. Too many Christians have thought that abortion is bad, and it might bring on judgment down the road. We have said public acceptance of homosexuality is bad, and it might cause judgments to happen in some undefined "later." Because Christians have not seen these things as a judgment in themselves, these same Christians who have predicted coming "later" judgments refuse to see them as such when they finally arrive. Because of this, if anyone is hardy enough to link a traditional judgment with what we call "abortion" or "homosexuality," the speaker is dismissed as mean-spirited or simplistic. And unfortunately, the charge is frequently correct, as it was in Falwell's case.
Nevertheless, the horror of September 11 is the beginning of God's judgments understood in the traditional sense. As these judgments continue to fall, look to the Pantheon. As long as it remains the Pantheon, and as long as professing Christians have anything to do with that damned place, the judgments in various guises will continue to rain down upon us. And we will deserve them all.
Some might say that Billy Graham preached the gospel there, and that he was being like Paul at Mars Hill. Not at all—what he did was wicked, hypocritical compromise, far worse than Peter at Antioch, and the only appropriate response on his part is repentance. He said, "Here in this majestic National Cathedral, we see all around us the symbols of the Cross. For the Christian, I'm speaking for the Christian now, the Cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering . . ." But the Cross does not contain a message just for the Christian. It is the hope of the world, and it is the only hope of the world.
Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth. Billy Graham has served as an ambassador of Jesus Christ over the course of many decades. And now, at the end of his life, he has denied the very Lord he had previously preached and served. This is no hypothetical danger. The apostle Paul was concerned about the danger of having "preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27). To use a phrase Dr. Graham has used countless times, but one which he no longer apparently believes, "the Bible says," "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent" (John 17:3).
"The Bible says," "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). And the Bible says, "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).
We have seen that God has sovereign authority to judge, and that He does judge the nations of men. He expects His children to be steeped in the teaching of Scripture so that they can see what is happening around them with biblical eyes.
America is suffering under the hand of God, and this did not just start recently. The judgments will continue, in various forms, until we repent of our idolatries, or until we are taken down, whichever comes first.
But why would God judge us for being sinners? Every nation is sinful.

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