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LOOKING FOR A CITY
HEBREWS 11:10

16th February 2003

Western countries are preparing to attack Iraq. The first stage of the war will be a massive air-strike with the new E-bombs. Delivered by a cruise missile, the E-bomb explodes to emit a high-energy pulse like a bolt of lightning that will fuse electrical equipment. All electricy will fail. Air-conditioners will stop. Lights will fail. Computers will melt down. Phones will go silent. Water and sewerage pumps will cease. Iraq will sit in darkness. The desired effect of the first night's bombing is to so stun and demoralize the Iraqi Army they will quickly give up and turn on Saddam. The United States armed forces will also drop 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles on military targets. Resistance will be short-lived.

It will be the first high-tech. war. No lumbering tanks. No skies filled with planes dropping bombs at random. No great guns booming into the night sky. The army is designed to be a nimble force that can see the whole battlefield at night, to act quickly, using its superior information and its high-precision firepower to disable enemy units before they can respond. Provided a sand-storm does not blind eye-in-the-sky satellites and crash helicopters. Provided our communication links do not go down, and the new gizmos work! Arab-language broadcasts will seek to convince the Iraqi people that American forces have come as liberators, not as occupiers. They call this "doing a Joshua"-after the Biblical Joshua, whose mighty trumpets blew down the walls of Jericho. The goal is not to massacre Saddam's Army. Saddam's soldiers will be told they are needed for the new Iraq. We will need a professional Army to rebuild the country afterwards. Hopefully, in this war, casualties among civilians will be light.

American forces avoid fighting in cities. Urban fighting is horrendous. Saddam has armed civilians, urging them to resist all invaders. American forces do not want to get bogged down by wild young terrorists and street fighters. But what if we cannot find Saddam's hidden bugs and germs? What if on the road to Baghdad, an advancing American Army faces a humanitarian disaster of dying Iraqis who lack protective suits?

If there is retaliation on us, it will be a chemical or biological attack upon our cities, notably Sydney and Canberra as with New York and Washington. We are not prepared. Some of our professional soldiers and sailors have refused their anthrax inoculations and have come home. What if Sydney's citizens face terrorist attacks here? Christians oppose this war and seek peace. Yet Muslim extremists see this as their finest hour, volunteering to be martyrs, gaining world attention, creating fear in countries they loathe, becoming the dominant force in Western regions. It is hard for righteous people to accept this. It is hard to allow dictators to bully their own and threaten us? It is easy to chant " No more war." but it is another thing to know what to do with an international terrorist threat. If we refuse to fight, what does Saddam do? Many say they want to wait until we have a UN Security Council vote. That will come. What then? Has anything changed except you now have some company going to war? Does the UN vote actually mean any-thing? The UN has done nothing to help the hundreds of thousands who have died in Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Ambon, Archeh, Nigeria, North Korea and a dozen more places suffering international terrorism. Where is our sense of justice if we wait for others to act first?

Can peace be better achieved by pre-emptive strikes? We disarm them before they get us? History shows that this has sometimes shortened potential conflicts. Anglican Bishop Tom Frame, recently wrote: "We must also assess the cost of allowing Iraq to retain Weapons of Mass Destruction, recognise the price paid by the Iraqi people for the continuation of this evil regime, and the damage to the standing of the UN if its authority is challenged and its resolutions are again ignored. The price of inaction will be much greater in the long term." The Church has rejected the way of the Crusades, the way of pacifism, and usually supports war only if it is just. If we reject the theory of a just war, is doing nothing, just? Is that Christian?

Alternatively, can we have a pre-emptive humanitarian strike? That is, bomb them with bread and butter, medical supplies and international aid from welfare organizations? Would that be a better way of disarming a dictator leading to his downfall? We have to have a motivation beyond revenge, acquisition of more territory, emasculating a dictator or preserving oil. What should motivate us? There may be this alternative way in the story of the father of Jews, Christians and Arabs. Abraham, father of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, was granted "a promised land." He went seeking it. But what drove him was not power, wealth, or dominance. What motivated Abraham was the vision of a heavenly city! Not the cities of earth but of heaven. Not doing His will but God's. Not his power, but God's. When Abraham invaded the land of Canaan he lived in it, not as its owner, but as a resident alien. His eyes were always on another city whose architect and builder was God.

Hebrews 11:8-10 "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Abraham's ultimate goal was not the invasion of Canaan but so acting as to enter God's heavenly country. Canaan was to be his own land, but, Abraham lived there as though "in a foreign country." He and his household lived in temporary dwellings. Abraham looked forward to "the city with foundations".

The heavenly city had God as the "architect and builder" of the "the heavenly Jerusalem". Hebrews 12:22 This thought recurs in The Revelation of St John. 3:12, 21:10. This "city with permanent foundations" is eternal, owing everything to God, who is its "architect and builder." More than Canaan was in Abraham's mind when he went out in faith. Abraham acted justly in his invasion of Canaan and showed benevolence towards the local inhabitants because he kept his eye upon heaven. The antidote to war lies in the spiritual commitment of our people. Man-kind has always built cities. At the dawn of history the Bible records the first cities being built. Genesis 4, 10 As soon as mankind achieves the level of civilization he builds a city. We have children and build cities. We cannot do without our children and our cities. Even those destroyed by wars are rebuilt on old guidelines. The destiny of Christians lies not in conquered cities but in the New Jerusalem. This is an amazing fact - that when the world ends it will be with a city.

Heaven in the Christian concept has nothing to do with an earthly paradise, a rural scene, floating clouds, green pastures, or idyllic, primitive Edens. Other religions of the world see a return to a primeval state of bliss, or an Islamic oasis. But the Christian believes the world will end in the city of God! The Greek and Latin myths of Arcadia were all of a return to a primitive state of Eden. But the Christian concept begins with a garden but ends in a city. The Romans never pictured a heavenly Rome, nor the Greeks a divine Acropolis, but the prophets of Israel saw a New Jerusalem. The Christian concept is that God takes into account man's creativity and transcends it to perfection. God accepts man's concept into the divine, not because of the brilliance of men, but because of God's grace. The new heavenly Jerusalem requires no effort of man. It is the creation of God.

Here is a great insight: all of our activities centering in earthly cities lead ultimately to death, but God brings life in the creation of a new, eternal city. God does not reject our buildings. It is the city as a spiritual force that God rejects. God separates us from the principalities and powers of the city and glorifies the city of His own making. Spiritual darkness still rules this world forcing nations to fight. We can draw up beautiful plans for high-rise flats, cloverleaf freeways, and underground railways, but good intentions lead only to greater slums, higher pollution, and underground passages for violence and obscenity. We can never improve humanity by our own efforts by either building new cities or bombing old ones. The problem lies within the unregenerate forces within people and the spiritual darkness of the human heart! That is what we must attack in Iraq and at home - the spiritual darkness in the human heart!

The attack must be a spiritual one. Only God can free us from being the playthings of spiritual forces. God in Christ frees people to live in this world, to seek the welfare of others and to work for the common good in anticipation of a New Jerusalem. God has made all things new. He chooses a new setting for humanity as we wanted, except that instead of us wanting to be away from God, we will now rejoice in God's presence as the very centre and light of the new city. All things on heaven and earth are to be united in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:10 "The greatness and the wealth of the earth's nations will be brought into the heavenly city" Revelation 21:26

Peace then reigns. Then we will live in harmony with ourselves, our environment, and our God. Until God brings forth his New Jerusalem, Christians are to work within the cities of mankind for the welfare of all. We are to be witnesses to God, remembering that everything ultimately depends upon God's grace and pardon. While we await the new Jerusalem, the Church lives as part of God's colony in the cities of men working for the welfare of all. An early Christian writer in "The Epistle to Diognetus" Chapter 10 makes this clear: "Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country nor language nor the customs which they observe. They neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, but inhabit Greek as well as barbarian cities, and following the customs of the natives in respect of clothing and food, they dwell in their own country, but only as aliens. As citizens they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland and every fatherland a foreign land." For when we desire heaven, we treat earth differently.

Our destiny lies in a heavenly city. "They were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:16 Meanwhile the West may make war on Iraq. If so, our role then will have to be the most amazing response of humanitarian aid. The cities of that country will require our mercy, and the people in our cities must be ready to help.

This week on Friday, February 14 it was St. Valentine's Day, a day for lovebirds, named after a godly man who served Christ early in Church history. Valentine lived under Roman Emperor Claudius II whose reign was spent in war fighting rebellion and opposition. His devotion to war led the Emperor to declare that no young men of fighting age could be married. They needed to be focused on being soldiers. But a Christian priest named Valentine opposed Claudius' decree and married young Roman soldiers in secret. When Valentine would not worship Caesar as Lord he was imprisoned. While in prison, he ministered the Gospel of Christ to his jailors. One jailor asked him to pray for his blind daughter. Valentine prayed for the girl and she regained her sight. When the news reached the Emperor that Valentine was making converts even while in prison, he had Valentine beheaded. Young Valentine sent a note to the healed girl just before his execution, signing it, "from your Valentine". The power of love ultimately triumphs. There is no city on earth worth the price of war. Not to do anything in the face of a madman bent on murderous acts against nations, may increase the suffering of all people. But our response must always be to love those who persecute us, and rebuild their lives with our love. We have to keep our eyes, looking towards the city of God.

REFERENCES.

  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary. F E Gaebelein Ed 1981.
  • "Newsweek" 17.2.03. Boots, Bytes and Bombs
  • "Military Campaign Afgainst Saddam Hussein" Bp Tom Frame "The Australian"
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