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Dr. Dobson Responds to September 11

With James C. Dobson, Ph.D.

Q: How do we pray at a time like this and what should we pray for?

A: Prayer is a vital component of the Christian life in both good times and bad. However, it often takes a crisis of this nature to shake us out of our complacency, to remind us of the fragility of life, and to awaken us to our need for complete dependence upon the Lord.

Obviously, we can pray for the victims of the attacks and their families, for our president and other national leaders, and for our military. But there is an even greater need for prayer that will exist long after the rubble has been cleaned up. In the wake of the attacks, Americans have embraced spirituality to a degree that hasn’t been seen for many, many years. The members of Congress stood on the Capitol steps with tears in their eyes singing "God Bless America." Banners inscribed with "In God We Trust" are proudly displayed, church attendance is up, and Christian radio stations are reporting as much as a 60 percent increase in listening. Given this heightened spiritual interest, we as Christians need to pray that the Lord will enable us to make the most of every opportunity to share the hope of Christ with those who are so desperately searching for meaning.

This might also be a propitious time to ask the Lord’s blessing and to call our nation to repentance. It’s not enough to say, "God save us." My hope is that, as a nation, we will say, "God forgive us and save us."

Q: What do I tell my children?

A: It is important that parents realize that a child’s security and sense of well being are deeply rooted in his relationship with mom and dad. If children see their parents expressing too much anguish and anxiety, they are going to become even more frightened. It is critical that parents talk to their kids and assure them that there is no reason to be afraid. Similarly, parents should limit their child’s access to violent images on the evening news. Mom and dad should take their young ones aside and encourage them to talk about what they have already seen on TV in an effort to find out how their young minds are processing the information.

Prayer is as important for children as it is for adults. Kids should be encouraged to talk to God about their fears. And just like adults, children should pray for the attack victims and for our President and other leaders. Praying for others will help children learn to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude.

Q: As Christians, we are called to love and forgive. How does that apply to this situation?

A: We must pay careful attention to Jesus’ words about human relationships. During the Sermon on the Mount, He gave us the admonition to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," and said "If someone strikes you on the left cheek, turn the other to him also." These are specific instructions to us as individuals – uttered by Jesus Himself – and we must obey His commands even when it is difficult or inconvenient to do so.

However, there are no such proclamations made to governments, which have a very different purpose and function. God has ordained three basic institutions for the benefit of mankind: the church, the family and the government. The government exists to maintain order, to assure that justice prevails, and to protect citizens from evildoers, both internal and external. In that sense, a military response to the terrorist attacks is entirely appropriate. Clearly, our military leaders need to be careful to target only those who are tied directly to terrorist activity, and to avoid the taking of innocent life. Nevertheless, the maintenance of social order is a power granted to the government by God.

As Christians, we must pray for our governmental leaders as they endeavor to bring the perpetrators to justice. I believe that we are obligated to support our military’s carefully orchestrated attempts to eliminate terrorist cells worldwide. But it is wrong for us to sit in our homes seething with hatred and bitterness toward an unseen enemy.

Q: Is it ok to be angry? Is it ok to demand justice?

A: Feelings of frustration and anger are inevitable at times like this. Sometimes there are circumstances in our lives when the pieces just don’t fit, and there are no answers to the question, "Why?" As believers, we are obligated in these moments to go on trusting in the Lord and looking to Him for solace. We must never let our anger be translated into hatred toward particular people or groups of people. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is one thing to desire justice and quite another for us to take it upon ourselves to mete out that justice except as instruments of our government (such as in the military). We must pray for those in authority over us and trust that our leaders will respond to the terrorist attacks in an appropriate manner.

Q: What does the Bible say about terrorism and violence?

A: Several verses come to mind. Proverbs 31:3 says "Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways," and Proverbs 16:29-30 reads, "A violent man entices his neighbor and leads him down a path that is not good. He who winks with his eye is plotting perversity; he who purses his lips is bent on evil." These words from the book of Micah, which specifically refer to a dark time in Israel’s history, nonetheless evoke thoughts of the recent terrorist attacks on the US: "Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil in their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it."

Q: Why does God allow suffering to happen?

A: I wrote an entire book in which I attempted to grapple with this question, titled When God Doesn’t Make Sense. Indeed, the theological implications of a tragedy of this magnitude present difficult questions.

But one thing is certain: it is wrong to blame God for the suffering in this world. It is inaccurate – and almost blasphemous – to say that He is responsible for the great evil that occurred on September 11. He loves His children, and He doesn’t spend His time looking for ways to inflict pain and sorrow on them. As for why He allowed this particular event to happen, I can only articulate an answer based on my inadequate understanding of how He deals with us as mortals. God has given each of us a free will. Without the ability to make choices – whether right or wrong – we would be nothing more than puppets on strings. God could have programmed us to perform predictable behaviors as He does animals, but that would have made it impossible for us to love Him voluntarily. Therefore, He has granted us the ability to make independent choices, and many times those choices lead us to do terrible things to one another. But people are responsible for their own behavior, and just as we have the ability to do things that are pleasing to God, we also have the ability to do things that grieve Him.

Q: Has God withdrawn His protective hand from the US?

A: Christians have made arguments on both sides of this question. I certainly believe that God is displeased with America for its pride and arrogance, for killing 40 million unborn babies, for the universality of profanity and for other forms of immorality. However, rather than trying to forge a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the terrorist attacks and America’s abandonment of biblical principles, which I think is wrong, we need to accept the truth that this nation will suffer in many ways for departing from the principles of righteousness. "The wages of sin is death," as it says in Romans 6, both for individuals and for entire cultures.

Q: How can Christians be a light to non-believers at this time? How can we glorify God?

A: I recently joined with several prominent religious leaders in signing a statement titled "What to Do when the Towers Crumble." That statement, which is based on Isaiah chapter 30, prescribes a three-step Christian response in the wake of the attacks. First, we need to repent of our past path of sin, as prescribed in Isaiah 30:1-14. Next, the Church needs to make the most of this opportunity to reach out to those who are broken, disillusioned, and hurting as a result of the atrocities we have experienced. Finally, we must reclaim the promises of God, turning back to Him and praying that He would bring a national revival out of the ashes of tragedy.

Q: Where do we go from here?

A: Christians must continue to come before their Heavenly Father with both their anger and their grief. He has been there with us through our crises in the past, and He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Two of our greatest resources are our families and our faith, and it is to these foundations that we must cling during this difficult time.

When it comes to non-Christians, it is my prayer that Americans will take the time in the wake of the attacks to ask themselves the important questions of life. Too many Americans have bought into the lie that life has no meaning, and that man can determine what is right or wrong in his own eyes. We must confront important questions such as "Who am I?", "Is there a God, and if so, does He know me?", "What does He expect of me?", and "Is there life after death?"

Many Americans, and especially the younger generation, have not dealt with those issues. Therefore, they have found no meaning in their lives. I sincerely hope that, as Americans engage in introspection in the days ahead, they will consider these questions and, ultimately, find answers in the Lord. That is why, now, more than ever, it is critical that we as Christians follow Peter’s admonition to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

Q: How can this tragedy help Americans have compassion for suffering people around the world?

A: Scenes of violence in other parts of the world were commonplace long before the events of September 11. Hopefully, this brutal attack on our own soil will help Americans feel greater empathy for people in places like Northern Ireland, Israel, Palestine, Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia, and other countries where violence is a part and parcel of everyday life. Perhaps, as a result of having our own illusions of peace and safety shattered in recent weeks, we will be left with a greater awareness of our responsibility to "the least of these" around the world.

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