As the world is reeling in the tragic loss of life in Paris, we pray for comfort for the families of the deceased, healing for the wounded and peace and security for a nation suddenly in the grip of suicidal terrorists within their own borders.
It is an unpopular idea that tragedies and acts of savage aggression are appropriate times to call people to repentance. This is seen as insensitive to those who are suffering and as a naïve perspective on both the causes of such evil acts as well as their remedy.
Yet, as we approach Thanksgiving, we should be reminded of another Presidential Proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln just a few months prior to establishing this national holiday. In March of 1863, Lincoln called a divided, war-torn nation to a day of prayer and fasting. In that proclamation, there is a bold profession of faith in God and the holy scriptures. Then within the proclamation there is a clear connection made between the sins of our nation and the ongoing Civil War tragedy itself.
Here are some choice excerpts:
• “Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations…”
• “…whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
• “…insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?”
What our national sin may be is actually then laid out in black and white by the President of the United States:
• “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”
Prideful, prayerlessness and ingratitude in response to God’s gracious blessings is pointed to as the possible root cause of the Civil War itself. Then a call is given to the nation to stop what they are doing, go to church, and fast and pray for forgiveness and healing of a broken nation.
• “It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness… All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
Two years later the Civil War ended, peace was secured and the nation began to heal.
Is it too simplistic to believe the war on terrorism will be won on our knees or not at all?
Jesus was asked in his day about an incident that was stealing the current headlines:
“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-3
The mistake of those in Christ’s day was in looking to blame the victims for the evil acts of the perpetrator and interpreting their suffering as evidence divine personal judgment. Jesus says that the “take away message” from such a terrorist act (or any calamity for the matter see Lk 13:4-5) isn’t to focus on the guilt of the victims particularly but to realize our urgent need for repentance personally.
“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
In other words, acts of savage terrorism that produce universal shock should be taken as a “wake up call” to humble ourselves spiritually as individuals and ask God to forgive us.
May God help each of us hear God’s“alarm clock” and refuse to hit the snooze button yet again!