Since the September 11th World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks, a growing angst has descended on the western world, nurtured by media ready to recount the latest morsels of anthrax-generated anxiety. Panicky people are looking to government to restore the security they once felt. But no government can shield its people from an enemy who wears no uniform and thinks he wins by losing. Even though intelligence sources had been discussing the possibility of terrorism for years, the events of the last few months caught most of the public unawares and unprepared. It couldn't happen here. But it did.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Americans are especially on edge. A "new" threat has emerged that is even more real than the Cold War's promise of nuclear holocaust. The threat, however, is not new. For years Americans watched as terrorists struck places like Israel, Northern Ireland, and parts of mainland Europe to intimidate their enemies. Newscasts covered attacks on American targets abroad like the USS Cole and embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. But most of those attacks were "over there," the earlier attempt to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993 notwithstanding.
Last year the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published its report entitled, "Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts,"1 which clearly warned of vulnerability to terrorism. The lengthy report extends current trend lines into the future, but some of the statements within this report were startlingly frank: "The probability that a missile armed with WMD (weapons of mass destruction) would be used against U.S. forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War and will continue to grow." Last December CIA Director George Tenet summarized the reason for this in a speech delivered in Los Angeles:
The paradigm of the past was relatively easy to grasp. Its dominant feature: two superpowers locked in a confrontation with clear limits and well-understood rules. Today, there are fewer rules, and fewer people willing to play by them. And the constant march of technology threatens to break new paradigms even before they take shape.2
Tenet was concerned about not only weapons of mass destruction, but also "weapons of mass disruption,"3 meaning the disruption of computer systems as well. He feared the economic and military impact of sophisticated computer terrorists, a very real problem when our high-tech, computer-assisted military attempts to fight a war in a remote part of the world like Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons proliferation has long been a concern, especially when rogue nations like Iraq aggressively possess or pursue such technology. Terrorists may or may not have access to portable, "suitcase nukes." But what is perhaps even more likely is a "dirty bomb," which is nothing more than a conventional bomb packed with radioactive materials. These materials can easily be obtained from civilian sources such as hospitals where radiation treatments are administered. When detonated, the explosion is conventional rather than nuclear, but the bomb disperses radioactive material, which can potentially afflict thousands of people with radiation sickness and make the surrounding vicinity virtually uninhabitable for years.4
The Worst Enemy Is Yet to Come
As the reality of vulnerability sinks in and the probability of future terrorist attacks grows, the worst enemy is already on the horizon. Great military leaders of history all have one thing in common: they believed they were destined to win, no matter what the odds, and they conveyed that confidence to their troops. The Bible is replete with stories of fearful enemies fleeing before inferior forces because panic had taken hold and reason became the first casualty. President Franklin Roosevelt understood this principle when he told the American people at the beginning of World War II, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Real terror comes not from the murder of thousands of innocent people, nor from sending anthrax spores through the mail. More people die every day around the world than from all the terrorist acts combined. Real terror comes when people lose courage and begin cowering in fear. We have received phone calls from people who are under such strain over current issues that it threatens to tear their marriages and families apart. Seminary students admit they are afraid. But of what? No one is guaranteed any time on this planet. Each day is a privilege and no day is a right. Indeed, the time for each of us is known only by God and He tells us we can't extend or shorten that time but we should be good stewards of the time we have, while today is yet today. This is a lesson western Christians must take to heart. Now is not the time to run but to strengthen the ties that bind and face the difficult times that are sure to come. As Christians there is nothing to fear, because we know that God has already defeated him who can cast our souls into hell, and He has a purpose for our lives and our deaths.
We also know that we "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."5 Our enemy is not bin Laden and his henchmen. Our battle is a spiritual battle where the ultimate victory is won when the lost-even our enemies-are given the good news of Jesus Christ and have their sins forgiven. God made no mistake by placing us in this time and place, and as such we are admonished to be brave and to contend for the faith. We are soldiers in a mighty spiritual army. Each has a unique mission incapable of being filled by another. It is time to pray for direction and purpose, and then boldly do what He commands us to do. If we truly believe that we are in the end times, and that the coming of our Messiah is near, then we need to be about our Master's business. Our goal is to hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
"Life's a bummer and then you die" is counsel only the world can give. The Bible affirms that life is indeed a bummer and indeed we die, but it goes on to affirm abundant life here and eternal life for all who are in Christ. So bravely carry your light where it needs to go and remember, darkness is a great place for light to shine!