Americans who were around the day of the 9/11 attacks know what it is like to be terrorized. The phrase of “never forget” may seem overused, but for those of us who experienced it, the feelings we had that day are permanently inscribed in our minds and hearts.
I was a teacher at the time. The disbelief and fear were palpable in my school building as the events unfolded. The entire rest of that school year, my students would look at me wide-eyed whenever a plane flew over the building. Our sense of reason eludes us when we have been in the valley of the shadow of death, even if it was miles and miles away that the acts occurred.
Much has been happening in another part of the world. Iraq is being taken over by militant religious extremists (known as ISIS or ISIL). I’ll be honest with you. I have not followed the situation until this last week. I chose to stick my proverbial head in the sand. My inner dialogue told me that what was happening was too far away, and what could I do about it anyway.
As I reflect on the anniversary of 9/11 and remember my fear (though mild compared to many closer to the conflict that day), I try to put myself in the place of the religious minorities that are being persecuted as I type these words. My imagination is good, but I have no ability to understand what these people are experiencing. Convert or die, they are told. So, many run for their lives, only to be faced with little means to survive and no idea of what the future holds.
This Sunday, my pastor put a scripture up on the screen that convicted me in a way I have rarely felt. It was Hebrews 13:3, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Paul encourages Christians to feel this way about their fellow Christians. My reaction to what is happening in the world is a far cry from what this passage implores.
We live in a nation where Prosperity Theology is quite popular. Many believe God simply wants us to be happy and wealthy. If we do the right thing, God will bless us financially…a simple cause and effect relationship. In a recent video clip, I heard Victoria Osteen say to her and her husband Joel’s congregation: “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .” She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?” (copied from albertmohler.com).
I would argue that God is much more concerned with our holiness than our happiness. In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus states his purpose, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We should show concern for all of those oppressed, not those who simply believe like we do. There are certain human rights we should all enjoy, regardless of our religion.
Unfortunately, we may not be able to physically do anything to relieve the suffering of those in Iraq, but we can pray, and we can raise awareness. I hope to stop my navel-gazing, and consider those around the world who are suffering in unimaginable ways.
What is your reaction to the events happening in the Middle East?