September 11th. There’s a certain chill in just reading the date, isn’t there? We all remember where we were when we heard the news. The image of crumbling towers imprinted on all of our minds forever. A very date, as Roosevelt said after Pearl Harbor, that lives in infamy.
And ever since, we’ve lived with the knowledge that there are people who are determined to destroy our way of life. And they’ll give their lives to do it. We live in a dangerous world in which for many years I doubt there has been a single news bulletin that did not include the word terrorism.
We are overtaken by new disasters every day. A friend of mine told me about a report he had read back in the 1980s identifying three events that could cripple America:
- A major earthquake on the San Andreas fault
- A major terrorist attack on a main city
- A tidal wave in the gulf
I’m still struggling to get my mind around the sheer scale of the devastation in New Orleans from years back. The volume of water. The number of people. The massive scale of loss.
Sunday morning after September 11th, I spoke from the book of Hebrews chapter 12 where God says that everything in this world will be shaken and reminds us that nothing in this life in completely secure (Hebrews 12:26-29). Your home, your family, your health, your job.
So what we need is a faith big enough for life.
Paganism and Christianity
Now, I’m convinced from the very depth of my being that what that means is a return to biblical Christianity. And I want to explain what that means, because there has been such a massive slide away from this in our time.
I want us to grasp clearly the difference between Christianity and paganism. And by paganism, I’m using that word to refer to any form of idolatry that you would find both throughout the Old Testament and widely in our culture today. Pagan religion is based on the idea that the gods will keep you from harm as long as you keep them happy. That’s paganism.
So a wise pagan will say: Now I’ve got to say my prayers, I’ve got to give my tithes, I’ve got to offer my sacrifices because as long as the gods are happy, the gods will keep me from harm.
So the pagan thinks like this: If I keep the gods happy, then my family will be healthy, then my business will prosper, then my kids will make wise choices, then my country will be secure. That’s paganism.
It is a religion you practice so that nothing terrible will happen to you. Now Christianity is completely different. The Bible makes it as plain as can be, for anyone who reads it, that in this world bad things will happen to me and to you.
The reason for this is simple: We live in a fallen world. We are surrounded by an environment in which evil is rampant within the human heart. The human race itself is plagued by disease and by death. And the Bible says the whole creation in which we live is groaning under a curse. A curse that has not yet been removed.
So for all our blessing the Bible makes it clear that our life in this world will include the experience of loss, and that loss will come through disease, it will come through death, it will come through disaster, and it will come through destruction that arises from men and women whose hearts have been opened up to rampant parts of evil and the demonic.
Jesus speaks clearly about wars and rumors of wars, about famines, and about earthquakes. This is your world, he says to those who are listening, this is the reality in which you live your life. This will be part of your experience. And this is precisely why you need me.
In this world, we need a God who is big enough to fulfill his purpose even when everything else is lost.
Do you see the huge contrast between these two things?
Paganism says: the gods, as long as they’re happy, will keep you from trouble. Christianity says: God will fulfill his purpose even through trouble, which you ought to expect in this world.
Now what has struck me as I’ve pondered this, is just how widely believers in our time have really bought into a Christianized form of paganism. In other words, we have the idea that if we’re good Christians, nothing bad will happen in our lives, and that if our country is based on Christian principles, no disaster will happen here. That kind of thinking shows how far we’ve drifted from Christianity into a cross-shaped paganism.
This kind of superstition is so far from the world of the Bible. The Bible never suggests that if you keep God happy nothing bad will happen to you. No, the real world of the Bible is that we live in a fallen world in which there is disease, there is danger, and there is death–and these things will shape the experience of the most righteous man.
No one ever lived a life more pleasing to God than Jesus. And yet Jesus, more than any other, knew terror unleashed. And when he stretched out on the cross, the earth splits beneath him as the sun no longer shines.
Paganism would say: My goodness, the earth splitting? He’s on a cross? The sun stopped shining? The gods mustn’t be pleased with him. That’s what a pagan would say. But the gospel tells us that it is through this agony of trouble that God fulfills his redeeming purpose.
You see, these are two completely different worlds.
The Desperate Need of the Hour
So, as we remember September 11th today, it seems to me that the desperate need of the hour is that we be delivered from a superstitious Christianity, in which we see our religion as a way of keeping God happy so there won’t be any trouble in our lives, and return to a biblical Christianity, in which we put our trust in God, knowing there will be trouble in our lives, but that God will bring us through it.
And that even by it and in it, he will fulfill his purpose, and it will not be lost. The God of the Bible is big enough for life. The God of the Bible can bring you through the worst experience of loss you or I will ever face. He is able to more for you, in you, and through than you can ask or think.