"The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain." Genesis 6:5-6 (NIV)
These words from Genesis describe God's disappointment in the human race. How disappointed God must still be! God must continue to grieve at the evil of the hearts of mankind.
As the shock of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon give way to more outward expressions of grief, our tears mix with those of a grieving God who watches as the world shows evil which once again threatens the foundation of peace and security, as well as financial and emotional well-being.
Our nation and our world have lived through intense days of evil and mass destruction before. But what makes Sept. 11 different from any other day, is that the Continental United States was attacked, apparently by foreign foes, in a way unequaled in our history. As never before we are aware of the intense hatred other people have for our nation, our government, our way of life and our values. As never before we are aware of just how vulnerable we are to an enemy that is hard to identify, hard to find and hard to destroy completely.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the planes which flew across the Pacific were quickly identified as Japanese. We knew the enemy and our leaders began to plot counterattacks. Yet, ironically, in the most technologically advanced age in the history of the world, the most technologically advanced nation on the earth struggles to identify the enemy.
Eventually, someone will be targeted. Some nation will receive the brunt of our wrath. The killing is not over. Our president is bound by the Constitution to defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it. He will stand in a long line of presidents who have had to make difficult decisions about launching mass destruction upon those who seek to topple the framework of democracy through the killing of innocent people. This is a fight against flesh and blood.
The world grows weary in this fight. Every generation seems to have a Hitler-like figure, someone who embodies the very evil that caused God to grieve to the point that he sent the Great Flood upon the earth in order to begin anew. Each time it appears that the world is entering a fresh, more civilized, peaceful existence, evil rises up again to announce that it's not finished.
If we are observant, we should realize that not many places in this world have had a respite from the clutches of great evil. Even within our country we have had our own internal reminders such as the destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the shootings at Columbine High School.
Even so, our children have never been exposed to the images of evil they watched from their classrooms on Sept. 11. I heard one 7-year-old boy ask if this was the start of World War III. The reality is that this event will change their world. This event is changing how they perceive the world.
While our government will make decisions about how to respond to this flesh and blood battle, we must teach our children that the evils of last Tuesday point to a greater struggle, one that is "not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) This battle is fought by every person. It's an inward as well as an outward battle.
Days of evil will always be with us. Our nation, as well as every man, woman, boy and girl, will always be subject to days of evil. Our government has talked about establishing a defense system that will shield us from incoming missiles that rogue nations have pointed at us. Even if such technology could be implemented, nothing can stop evil days from coming.
So are we to sit back and do nothing? Of course not. We shall continue to elect officials who will help us plot strategy to eradi
cate the forces of evil that threaten our nation and our world. However, the most important task for us as individuals is to prepare for the days of evil by putting on the full armor of God. Without the armor of God, we shall not stand as individuals, we shall not stand as families, as communities, or as a nation.
Without the armor of God, we will not hold up truth, nor will we seek righteousness. We will not be found ready with opportunities to share the Gospel of our Lord. Our faith will grow weak, leaving our hearts vulnerable to evil, prone to hate, prone to prejudice, prone to the same injustice that others perpetrate against us. We must "take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." Ephesians 6:17-18a (NIV)
Perhaps Americans have clothed themselves with God's armor through prayer in the past few days more than at any time in our history. As a sign of resolve and faith, Congressmen and women gathered on the steps of the Capitol to sing "God Bless America." Our president quoted words from the 23rd Psalm in his Tuesday night address to the nation, reminding us that though "we walk through the valley of the shadow of death," we "will fear no evil" because God is with us.
Though by our very nature as free Americans we are pluralistic in our beliefs, it seems to me that in these past few days we have demonstrated that we are still a nation that believes in the motto found on our currency, "In God we trust." If not, no defense shield, no level of intelligence, no charismatic leader will be able to save us. Without the armor of God fully in place, there will be no salvation for us. The enemy can strike at the center of one America's main financial districts, but as long as we trust in God the enemy will never prevail and we will be given the strength to stand the evil days yet to come.
The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.