Weighty questions

March 31, 2003

From the corridors of power to coffee corners on YWAM bases, the war in Iraq has provoked global confusion and division. Several times in various European locations over the past few weeks, I have witnessed impassioned discussions among my YWAM colleagues, including senior leaders. The multinational character of our staff and student bodies makes for a kaleidoscope of perspectives. Several American colleagues have found themselves being yelled at or otherwise insulted in the streets of European nations – simply for having the wrong accent.

I don’t remember when any issue created such disunity on so many fronts. It’s hard to imagine how the damage can be repaired. So many weighty questions hang in the air. More questions arise daily as a quick end to the conflict becomes less likely.

Is this a “just” war? Is it a legitimate war? Are we witnessing the unravelling of the UN, and of NATO? What future is there for the trans-Atlantic relationship? If “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, where is the world’s sole superpower headed? Since the “shock and awe” strategy didn’t work, are we facing a Stalingrad, or a Vietnam? Even if Bush “wins” Baghdad, can he ever “win” the Iraqis? How many Bin Ladens will this conflict create? Do we understand the depth and breadth of the mistrust, frustration and anger building up against the West? How much of the propaganda on both sides of this ‘Reality-TV war’ can we believe? Will Saddam unleash his chemical weapons on the Coalition forces? What will be the consequences for Christians living in Moslem lands? What effect will this war have long term on missions in the 10-40 Window?

No simple answers exist to most of these questions. Today I met with 25 other Christian leaders in Holland to share and pray together over the dilemmas of this conflict. One was the leader of a Christian political party who told of his own wrestling with the stand he had taken to support the Coalition war effort, despite all his misgivings about the pre-war diplomacy and his hatred of violence. The sobering feeling he had when he put his hand up was to accept responsibility for the conduct of the war on the Coalition side. A heavy responsibility few of us carry directly.

What became clear from our time together was that, in a globalised world, this conflict will have global ramifications far more widespread than Gulf War I. A simplistic division of the world into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ is a sure way to further polarise the world. No, for a long time to come, we’re going to have to live with these issues.

So how do we respond? Let me suggest four ways:

1. Choose to maintain a unity of the Spirit, despite disagreements:
The extent of the division and confusion this war has produced has the stamp of something really evil. Major spiritual powers seem to be at work. So far, only one winner is emerging – the father of lies (John 8:44). We need to be alert to respond in the opposite spirit.

2. Keep the main thing the main thing:
We may wonder about the end-time meaning of these events. Matthew 24 is often quoted as proof that such wars and rumours of wars are signs of the approaching end. May I suggest another reading of this passage, which has often been read as a sort of Christian horoscope? Could it be that Jesus was actually warning his disciples specifically not to get side-tracked by such end-times speculations? Beware, he warns. Watch out! Yes, there will be wars, famines, persecution, earthquakes, false messiahs and the like. But the end is not yet. These are just the beginnings of the birth pangs of the new age. Don’t get led astray from the main task. The good news of God’s Rule must go to every people group, and only then can the end come. That is the real end-time sign!

Let’s not get waylaid by speculation, but rather focus on the clear instructions Jesus gave us to:
– pray for his kingdom to come
– seek his kingdom first, and to
– go and disciple the nations.

3. Bring our questions before the Throne:
Let’s pray as Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father in heaven – remember He is the father of the whole human race, Arab and Jew, American and Iraqi…
Let your name be honoured – the sword is being wielded in God’s name by both sides. May his name be truly vindicated and exalted. May many come through this crisis to know him as father and to honour his name.
Come and set up your kingdom – not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit. While states and governments have a God-given task in punishing evil-doers (Romans 13) and thus an indirect role in creating conditions for God’s Shalom to reign, it is the Spirit of God who ushers in this Rule.
Let your will be done – this is the simplest definition of the Kingdom. Let it happen in Iraq, in the Middle East, in Washington and London, in Baghdad and Brussels – as it is in heaven!
Provide our daily needs – especially for those deprived by the war; may the ‘haves’ become sensitized to the world’s ‘have-nots’ through this conflict; may we examine a world system weighted to sustain the western lifestyle.
Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others – if God was to judge the West through this war, he would be just. Think of the widespread godlessness in Europe which shocks visitors from the Two-Thirds World. Today we pondered Holland’s global role in introducing legislation for abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, etc. What is God saying to each of our nations through this crisis?
Keep us from being tempted, and protect us from evil – what temptations does this war present us? What evils do we need to be alert to? What lies and propaganda are we vulnerable to?

4. Remember God’s sovereignty:
A young Jewish captive once found himself forced to serve in the capital of what is Iraq today. Despite the opulent display of worldy power around him and threats to his own life, Daniel chose to trust in the sovereignty of his God. Eventually, God used him to disciple the world’s most powerful – and probably most tyrannical – ruler of the day, Nebuchadnezzar. Listen to this confession by Saddam’s supposed forefather:

I praise and honour God Most High.
He lives forever, and his kingdom will never end.
To him the nations are far less than nothing;
God controls the stars in the sky and everyone on this earth.
When God does something, we cannot change it or even ask why.”
Daniel 4:34,35

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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