Turning Today’s Terrorist Tragedy into a Triumphant Vision for the Future
Today is an especially sad day for the world. Yet another act of terrorism has taken place, this time in Belgium. A series of suicide bombers have chosen to end their lives and the lives of over thirty others. Countless numbers have been maimed or injured. Reports from Brussels are gruesome and frightening.
We are reminded that the wars of the Middle East continue to have horrific effects that ripple across otherwise peaceful lands to their north. We should also recall that just a few days ago in Turkey, dozens were killed there too by madmen using similar techniques targeting civilians. All of these attacks appear to come from the same source: the Islamic State aka ISIS. While bombs fall in Syria and Iraq whose intent is to degrade and destroy ISIS, retaliation results from these renegades in Europe and in the United States. Intriguingly, these attacks come after a large number of Russian troops and military equipment have departed from the Syrian conflict as President Putin commanded most of these forces to return home to Russia. In this specific instance, ironically instead of leading to less violence, a cessation of bombing has been rewarded by yet more terrorism. Cause and effect are not easy to connect. The senselessness of today is made even harder to understand in light of these developments.
At this moment, evil seems to be making its presence felt to a greater degree than usual. It reinforces to me that today’s popular version of Christianity, the message of the so-called Megachurch, overlooks the reality of objective evil in this world. An apostate faith, it stands grossly out of touch with the nature of humankind and the plight of most people. The apostasy of these times, a belief system that teaches being a Christian is just about acquiring wealth and enjoying success, has nothing to say to a tragedy like what we witnessed today. This faith of mostly positive platitudes stands naked and devoid of all relevance when tragedy strikes. Being positive and keeping a sunny disposition has little affect on the hatred of religious extremists.
But biblical Christianity is not “Pollyannaish.” It understands where to lay the blame. Yes, there is a devil. But it is not just about a person we call Satan. He may be (and I believe he is) evil incarnate, but evil is incarnated in all of us too. Philosophers call it “metaphysical evil” and this dysfunction exists within the being of every human, because every human has some measure of evil built into their DNA. The Bible calls it sin. We try to paper over it and diminish its depth and darkness. Despite these vain efforts, evil remains irrefutably real… it must be manifestly acknowledged… and hopefully sooner than later, it must be faced head-on by each of us personally. Christianity teaches that the only answer to this infection in ourselves is spiritual rebirth followed by the practice of the presence of God dwelling within; a way of living that minimizes the effects of evil in our individual lives and, transcending ourselves, evil as manifested in the world beyond.
To be clear, we must not only challenge evil with outrage. Outrage when voiced may make matters worse by infecting us with the hatred of those we abhor. We too often hear rants that remind us that human vengeance is seldom just. Nevertheless, sometimes there is no talking to a person or group consumed with anger that has led to murder – it must be checked with force. It is indeed time that we should establish a new and fresh manifesto for civilization that makes no accommodation for hate; however, it must not champion deadly force as the supreme answer to suppress the violence of society’s enemies. We cannot repay evil with evil. Instead, we must relentlessly contend with every ounce of our energy and talent to articulate an opposing ideology that aspires to overturn injustice and overcome hatred. Make no mistake. Many of these terrorists have grievances for which the Western world should take responsibility. Our colonial past haunts us still.
Radical religion energizes most of the terrorism of today. But an even more radical (yet moderating) religion can turn the tide. It is called Christianity. But for it to have an impact, it must be authentic. It must be biblical. It can’t be the “consumer Christianity” rampant in America’s Churches today. Coca-Cola once promoted itself with the tag line “The Real Thing.” Christianity – if it’s the “real thing”, can reverse the trauma in our world and transform the terrorists made mad by bad religion into contributing members of society.
That’s why it is the gospel – the good news. Those of us who believe in that good news must not be overwhelmed with despair. We must not fall victim to the anger we feel when we see innocents killed or injured by terror like we saw today. Christians must speak out with sincerity and vigor, testifying that there is one and only one right religion that instructs us on the right way to build a society and that affirms a meaningful way to order our lives. That path involves more than speaking about love; it demands doing acts of kindness based on selflessness. As Christians we do differ from Muslims. Contrary to the pseudo-theology of our day, “All gods are not the same.” We rightly assert that our God is love and our God is a father. Islam affirms neither of these – and it shows. It is time to underscore that drastic distinction between Christianity and Islam. Other religions like Islam may claim to be a religion of peace. But they are agents of their religion and they should be accountable based upon what they do, not what they say, or what the media says about them. Likewise, their religion is touted or tainted by what its adherents do – not what they say, or how many times they pray during the day.
Unlike Islam that was founded by a prophet who killed his enemies, the Prince of Peace founded Christianity. Living in light of the nature of our God’s character is an inescapable mandate dictating our charter and mission statement. Our God as disclosed through Jesus Christ (one of the most essential doctrines of the true Christian faith) does not bully and threaten; He does not capriciously demand abrogation of our wills. He does not diminish our personhood or demand we commit suicide to earn a ticket to heaven. He wants us to live lives brimming with meaning and satisfying in every measure that most of humanity values. He promised this life will see blessings and be full of joy most of the time – but he also was a realist and promised we would also experience persecution, because the world and the evil it contains is incompatible with living in the way he taught. But as Bonheoffer that great martyr of the faith taught us, despite the paradox of “losing our lives to gain them”, we must never forget that this is the way of the cross, and the means to the deepest fellowship with others in our faith and with Christ himself. Apostate Christianity knows of no cross. True Christianity embraces it. We are to exult in the fellowship of His sufferings. We are to rejoice when we are found worthy to be persecuted for our faith.
As Christians, love of God and love of our neighbor are indeed topics we must proclaim. However, there is another and that other is hope. There is where Bible prophecy provides maximum value to the believer. The Bible tells us, sometimes in detail, what will happen as time progresses. While turmoil and tribulation will inevitably increase in the days that lie ahead, they will not endure forevermore. We will observe in a day not too distant that they will reach a grand finale. The Book of Revelation is the last book in the Bible for a reason. It speaks of the apocalypse, but it also speaks of the New Jerusalem. It talks of tribulation; but it also assures us of triumph. Revelation is a book for Christians of every generation. Hope remains the crescendo. The days do grow darker. But contrary to popular belief, the good news of Bible prophecy is not the cliche of “doom and gloom” with which our critics assail us. The bad news of terror and tragedy comprise the lead story of the “evening news”. Instead, the Bible promises a rainbow after the storms in our world and one day the “city of God” with streets paved with that proverbial pot of gold. Only those golden streets won’t be just a proverb. They will be real and we will walk on them.
Trying to understand the driving forces behind today’s terrorist acts and the geopolitics that generate them, requires more insight than what is contained within the most sophisticated analysis from the world’s top political scientists. The advantage, however, that someone like me has over those more studied and gainfully employed by such brain trusts consists in knowing something that they don’t – how the final act concludes. It doesn’t mean I am necessarily right about all the particulars although I like to believe that my assessment of world events gets more things right than wrong. But as a Millenarian (not a “millennial” mind you being almost 62), I am committed to the belief that Jesus Christ will return to this planet and establish a 1,000-year kingdom physically on this earth. He will rule and reign in Jerusalem. Like many Christians, knowing that the Kingdom of God is coming encourages me to hope that the challenges we face will soon be behind us. The world as we know it – full of hate, terrorism, murder, crime, and despair – will not last forever. It is coming to an end. The Bible teaches that that day is already set (Philippians 1:6).
For at least 200 years, Bible prophecy has been devoted to the study of how geopolitical developments in the world will lead to the alignment of nations the Bible describes and ultimately how these nations will be pitted against one another in a series of great wars. This preoccupation is not a fad, nor is it due to the explosion of media in our lifetime making us aware of “just how bad things have gotten”; and it is not necessarily the case that more people today (than ever before) believe that the world is going to hell in a handbag. Admittedly, it is the case that there are more “mad prophets on the airways” thanks to the Internet and YouTube. Unfortunately, this inexorably creates greater confusion (and not clarity) concerning what the Word of God teaches about the end of days. And yet, this disparity between what we would like to be the case and what is, should not cause us to dismiss the study of prophecy and not lead us to “despise prophetic utterances” as Paul exhorts his readers in 1 Thessalonians 5:20.
Bible prophecy is not a topic that biblical Christians should avoid. I talk about this in detail in my book Blood Moon. It is, by the way, my favorite book although it is not my best seller. Admittedly, it is a book that I need to retitle, since the amount of time I devote to this one sign and its quadruple appearance in 2015, is not only trivial to the book, these blood moons were little more than a launch pad to talk about the much more important celestial and terrestrial signs that speak of God’s covenants with His people – believers both in the Old Testament and the New. A better title for my book would have been Keeping Watch, because I argue that eschatology comprises a priority in preaching true Christianity. The Bible commands us that we should always be watching for the Lord. Jesus said, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42). And one of the most heretical aspects of today’s Christianity is its failure to preach that Jesus is coming soon. Apostate Christianity emphasizes optimism – but true Christianity emphasizes hope. And there is a big difference. Optimism tells us to put on a happy face so we can influence outcomes to be what we want them to be, often selfishly, often in a manipulative manner. The outcome is however, uncertain because it is based not on facts, but just on our attitude. Hope is distinctly different. Hope is based on facts – certain facts. These facts are what the Bible promises are truths despite the circumstances of our day-to-day experience when viewing world events. We may be able to muster the happy face or we may not. Moreover, it is most important to stress that our attitude alone may have virtually no bearing on what will happen, what others will do, and what the outcome will be. In contrast to optimism, hope is based on the providence of God. It is not about the “power of positive thinking” to influence outcomes. Optimism relies on power we generate within ourselves – hope relies on the promises of God and the power He possesses to work all things for good to those that love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
Consequently, my advice is that we best be like the wise virgins of Jesus’ parable and make sure our lamps are trimmed and we have stocked up on oil, because “we know not when the bridegroom cometh” (paraphrased, Matthew 25:6). We could say that the wise virgins were “preppers”, but their most precious commodity that they made sure they had plenty of was only one thing – oil to light their lamps. This oil, as Bible teachers through the ages have taught their flock, was really a symbol of one thing: the Spirit of God. The wise make doubly sure that they have the living Christ within. The foolish have not the Spirit. Their lamps are empty. Therefore, we would be wise to make sure the Spirit dwells within. As Paul counsels, “Be not drunk with wine for that is dissipation, but be ye filled with the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
We are encouraged repeatedly to remain mindful that the Lord is coming soon (2 Peter 3:12, Galatians 5:5, Hebrews 9:28). The Bible says that a special crown awaits those who eagerly await Jesus’ coming (2 Timothy 4:8). Prophecy students earnestly seek that crown; but even more, at the appearance of Christ there stands a promise that when He appears, we shall all be with Him and be together, reunited with those that have gone on before us, as well as friends and family scattered across the earth that we miss and yearn to see. Furthermore, we should make special note that the Greek word for Christ’s coming is parousia, which conveys not just “dropping by” to pay a short visit, but “dwelling with” for an indefinite period of time. Therefore, the coming of Christ for us at the Rapture is not His making a quick appearance and then darting off to the next event (like mounting His vengeful (but righteous) judgment at the climax of the Battle of Armageddon as “Post-Tribulation” believers teach). It is His coming for and being with His saints, and remaining with us and we with one another – forever. We shall all be changed in a moment, in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). That transformation won’t take very long – but our residing with Him will be for a very long time, for eternity to be specific. Mounting our white horses and accompanying Christ as he wages war against the Beast will transpire in good order. But first a reunion takes place. There will be a getting acquainted session. Some argue that it is then that there will be the biggest wedding that ever has been or ever will be. And that wedding reception that follows is going to last for a while.
When rightly conceived, that is what the “blessed hope” of Titus 2:13 means. It is not just having a resurrected body (free from pain, perfected in form), which is most certainly an awe-inspiring promise all on its own. No, it is much more; it is enjoying the presence of Christ Himself, looking directly into His eyes, knowing Him as we are known by Him, sharing in His glory, and being with and among all His saints from time immemorial. To reiterate: we will experience peace, we will inherit immortality, and we will participate in perfect community. At that instant when we are transformed from perishable to imperishable, we will be united with that great crowd of witnesses who surround us now (Hebrews 12:1), thereafter and forever alive and living among them and they with us – and most especially with the Lord Jesus. They are already occupying their mansions Jesus promised all of us (John 14:1-3). You can bet that we will be checking out these heavenly condos before much more time passes too. Our sadness today will be turned into joy very soon.
And the pain of this period of tribulation, of terrorism and death, of separation with those recently departed, will let up over time. Days like today, March 22,2016 – a day of infamy when we are so shocked and saddened – will dissipate and finally disappear like mountains in our rearview mirror, mountains whose stature no matter how monumental, grow steadily insignificant even as they become invisible, as we travel miles beyond them, putting increasing distance between ourselves and their momentous peaks. Days like today will grow obscure and hard to remember just like those mountains. For soon we will soon travel beyond the tragedy of today into the heavens at near infinite speed, in the twinkling of an eye, upward and onward into eternity to a place we will call our heavenly home. And so we shall ever be with one another and with Our Lord.