In Response to Terror

Robert G. Stoddard
Bluewell United Methodist Church
Bluefield, WV

Psalm 137 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

This is a no-frills sermon. We have too much to discuss and far too little time. But, through television, we were all eye-witnesses to horrifying arrows of terrorism aimed at the heart of America. Despite the terrible dimensions of evil, they missed. Our national spirit of freedom and faith is still beating. But we are wounded ? all wounded ? wounded by terror.

What is a Christian response to the destruction of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pen-tagon, and the deaths of countless innocents ? air-line passengers and air crews, employees and em-ployers, fire fighters and law enforcement person-nel? What is our response to terror?

A complete answer is beyond the scope of a twenty-minute sermon. Hopefully you already know many of the answers from the three years I?ve been your pastor. But there are four things I think I need to say and I believe you need to hear tonight.

? First, feelings are neither right nor wrong. But what we do about them can be either right or wrong. God understands and accepts our feel-ings. He holds us accountable for our actions.

? Second, we have every right to demand and expect justice in the face of evil.

? Third, the identity of underlying source of yes-terday?s terrorism is widely known and on the verge of defeat.

? Fourth, our final strength and hope ? as always ? is Jesus and his coming reign in glory. There-fore, once we find our footing in the face of tragedy, we need to redouble our efforts to-wards world evangelism and spiritual warfare.

I?m sure there are more issues we might ad-dress, but these are essentials.


?Happy is the one who takes your babies, and smashes them against the rocks!? I can?t think of any more jarring words in scripture than the final verse of Psalm 137. Those fourteen words express some of the fury and rage I?ve been feeling since yester-day. I know I?m not the only one?

A volunteer at Bluefield Regional Hospital ex-pressed it like this: ?We should start bombing - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan - all those countries,? she told me, ?until we find out which one did it. Then we can apologize to the others?? Or, as the psalmist wrote, ?Happy is the one who takes your babies, and smashes them against the rocks!? Those aren?t hu-man words. That?s the Word of God. A word that understands rage and fury?

God is sensitive to our feelings of fear and vul-nerability, too. Listen to a few verses from Psalm 38, ?A psalm of David, to bring us to the LORD?s remem-brance:?

My loved ones and friends stay away? Even my own family stands at a distance.

Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps for me;

they make plans to ruin me.

They think up treacherous deeds

all day long?

My enemies are many;

they hate me

though I have done nothing against them.

They repay me evil for good

and oppose me

because I stand for the right.

Do not abandon me, Lord.

Do not stand at a distance, my God.

Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior.

So however you?re feeling tonight, God under-stands. He understands our feelings of anger, rage, fear, and abandonment. Your feelings aren?t right and these feelings aren?t wrong. You didn?t wake up yes-terday planning to feel any of them. And, as the ter-rible news sank in, you didn?t sit down and decide ?how to feel.? Feelings are a spontaneous, inner re-sponse to events. And ? as the Psalms make plain ? God neither rewards nor punishes us for feelings.

On the other hand, God holds everyone of us accountable for our actions?

This is obvious from yesterday?s terrorist at-tacks. We don?t like it, but some people dislike, de-spise, and detest the United States. They would rather burn our flag than salute it. As long as they simply feel that way, we can live with it. But, when they hijack planes ? Well, another psalm expresses it well: ?Those who hate the LORD [will] cringe before him; their desolation [will] last forever.?

So feelings are neither right nor wrong; what we do about them makes all the difference. God understands our feelings. He holds us accountable for our actions.


If our feelings are ethically neutral, but our ac-tions are ethically crucial, what shall we do? If noth-ing else, we should cry out for justice! But remem-ber: justice isn?t a random attack against the first person ? or even the first suspect ? to come along. That?s revenge. Justice finds the guilty and holds them accountable.

Our scripture lesson from Psalm 137 illustrates this: ?O LORD,? the psalmist prayed, ?remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. ?Destroy it!? they yelled. ?Level it to the ground!??

Tonight, very few of us could identify the Edomites. But Edom was an important kingdom from the beginning of the eighth-century BC on. While we don?t know if they participated in the destruction of Jerusalem, they certainly celebrated its devastation. (Does that remind you of anything you?ve seen on TV in the last two days?)

Justice finally had its way with the Edomites. After Jerusalem, the Edomites were next. Edom was smashed by the Babylonians, just like Jerusalem. But unlike Jerusalem, Edom disappeared forever.

In Psalm 137, God?s people don?t cry out for general retaliation. Instead, they ?named names.? And God?s judgment against Edom was precise and deadly.

In the face of the terrorist attacks yesterday, it?s easy to demand a generalized response, perhaps aimed at that Arab or Islamic nations. That might ?feel good? for a little while but their claim to re-taliation and revenge would stalk our nation for gen-erations. That?s simply wouldn?t be justice. But, when we collect the evidence and make our case, we can demand justice ? whether justice involves a small cadre of terrorists or a broad-based international cabal. And then judgment can be precise and deadly. I was pleased to hear this afternoon that federal au-thorities hot on the trail of the terrorists.

Is it possible some of them will escape? Per-haps. Perhaps. But they shouldn?t be fooled! They will only escape for a little while. I call their atten-tion - and yours - to ?the story of the persistent widow? in Luke 18. Jesus came to this conclusion: ?? Don?t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who plead with him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly!? Jesus Christ ?will never judge by appearance, false evidence, or hear-say.? But he will judge?

So, regardless of our feelings, we have every right to demand and expect justice in the face of evil.

The Real Enemy

Babylon was an historic city, located in modern-day Iraq. It laid the foundation for countless cultural developments, including the world?s first great legal document, the Code of Hammurabi. It also played a prominent role in Hebrew history as the conquering hand of God and the site of Israel?s exile. But Baby-lon returned to the desert. So we might assume that the destruction promised by the psalmist ? ?O Babylon, you will be destroyed? ? has been fulfilled.

In a way it has. Yet Babylon didn?t disappear from biblical prophecy when the ancient city van-ished into the sand. Instead a new spiritual Babylon came to light. Listen to this prophecy in the John?s Revelation: ?I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor. He gave a mighty shout, ?Babylon is fallen?that great city is fallen! She has become the hideout of demons and evil spirits??? No wonder God?s people look forward to the final de-struction of this spiritual Babylon!

You see, the real source of world terror wasn?t ancient Babylon any more than it?s contemporary Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran. The real power that thought up, organized, and implemented yesterday?s terrorist attacks was Satan himself ? the demonic of king of spiritual Babylon and ?the god of this evil world.?

Followers of Islam are called to a deep level of devotion to God. Their belief obligates them to a strict regimen of prayer, fasting, and compassionate acts. Although they are by no means Christian, they should be difficult for Satan to corrupt. But, from my perspective, some Moslems have made a dread-ful mistake, identifying America as ?the Great Sa-tan.? This continues to have terrible consequences for them and for us.

Now, again, they aren?t obligated to like us any-more than we?re obligated to like them. But they aren?t Satan and neither are we. That should be self-evident!

So how could a follower of Islam participate in terror against the innocents? Try this. Suppose you knew a burglar was coming and ? for whatever rea-son ? were convinced he would come through your back door. You would concentrate everything you had to keep him from entering that way and ? since you could make a maximum effort ? you might even apprehend the burglar before he got in.

But suppose the burglar didn?t use the back door. Suppose, instead, he came in through the front. Since you weren?t looking for him there, that door may not even be locked. So, if he?s sneaky, the burglar will have your hands in the air before you know what?s hit you.

I?m afraid that?s what happened to some of the followers of Islam. They?ve been so busy plotting against ?the Great Satan? that they?ve ignored the real Satan and, as a result, he has been able to sneak in and grab control. Even now I?m sure they don?t see what?s happened. As a result, spiritual Babylon has become ?the hideout of demons and evil spirits.?

So, even as we demand and expect justice, we need to understand that something ? someone ? far more corrupt and dangerous than the terrorists is the real source of trouble.

World Evangelism and Spiritual Warfare

The final victory, of course, is already assured. Satan has already fallen from the sky and his terri-tory diminishes every day. No wonder ?the dragon ? the old serpent, the Devil ? Satan? himself attacks so recklessly! Like Germany?s last gasp in the Battle of Bulge and Japan?s desperate reliance on kamika-zes, yesterday?s terrorist attacks are unmistakable evidence that Satan is facing final defeat. Christ?s victory is near. We may indeed see the day of glory!

Until that day, we have two critical responsibili-ties that cannot be deferred: world evangelism and spiritual warfare. World evangelism so that none will be lost who might be saved. Spiritual warfare so that Satan?s legions will be weakened and pushed back at every turn.

Of course these aren?t popular teachings. There are powerful voices in both the secular world and even in our own denomination that would urge us to be inclusive and get along. I?m sorry but, from my perspective, that?s unacceptable. That kind of think-ing can be easily twisted around to excuse and even justify acts of terror. No, this is the only agenda that counts: that none should be lost because we?re afraid we might offend them, and that Satan shouldn?t survive on our silence. We know to well what he and his henchmen can do.

How can we be silent any longer? Our final strength and hope ? as always ? is Jesus and his coming reign in glory. Therefore, once we find our footing in the face of tragedy, we need to redouble our efforts towards world evangelism and spiritual warfare.


We were all wounded ? deeply wounded ? by yesterday?s terrorism. But we have not been de-feated, and we will not be defeated by terror. Our Lord went face-to-face with the devil. On Good Friday, he took the worst the devil had to offer and, on Easter, he rose to victory. Today, Satan and his legions are cornered, essentially trapped in a rela-tively small corner of the globe. The earthly ar-mies of God are ? especially in the Third World ? pressing the battle. And final victory approaches.

Until that day, we must not weaken. Satan can-not destroy a born-again believer; but a born-again, Spirit-filled believer can backslide into destruction. Therefore we must be faithful to our Savior and King, even when ? as tonight ? we gather ?beside the rivers of Babylon, and weep as we think of New York and Washington.? So do not despair but work for the victory. For God is good ? all the time!

1) Psalm 38:11-12, 19-22. All Bible citations NLT.

2) Psalm 81:15.

3) See ?Edomites,? Harper?s Bible Dictionary, Paul J. Achtemier, ed., (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), Logos CD-ROM version.

4) Luke 18:7b-8a.

5) Isaiah 11:3.

6) Revelation 19:1-2a.

7) 2 Corinthians 4:4

8) Luke 10:18.

9) Revelation 20:2.

10) In the past, I have shown how ?the 10/40 Window? represents Satan?s last bastion. Not surprisingly, Afghanistan (the apparent base for yesterday?s attack) is near the center of that region.