Reeling from the horrors of 9/11 two decades ago, we entered Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist camps and also try to build a better nation for the people who had been caught under the Taliban’s control. Was it hubris or hope to think we could lastingly accomplish either goal? I’ll leave that discussion for another day, but this week has reminded us of how even our greatest powers stumble.
Despite the great sacrifice and heroism so many poured into this effort, despite the world’s strongest militaries throwing unfathomable sums of technology and money at the situation, despite most of the world preferring a Taliban-free globe, the Taliban now chat on Twitter as the reasserted leaders of Afghanistan.
Talk about a reality check.
In some sense, this is the second such check to hit us in the span of just over a year, as we are trying to crawl out of a pandemic that hobbled the world’s superpowers with lightning speed. Our lives and the things we build are fragile.
None of this is particularly surprising from a Biblical standpoint. The Bible expects the world to be riddled with troubles, often self-inflicted by our pride and ignorance, but present in any case, until the day Jesus returns. What is surprising is how easily those of us who confess that Jesus is Lord — and I include myself in the thick of this — can forget what we learn in the Scriptures’ about our worldly confidence that is now shaken.
I preached the other day on Hebrews 13:14: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (ESV). In the moment, it is incredibly easy to get wrapped up in making our own “city,” turning our trust to our favorite earthly power, be it our country or NATO or the UN, but time and again we see the illusory nature of the hope such powers peddle.
I do not mean this as a statement about whether the Afghan War was the right move in 2001 or not. Countries do have a God given duty to protect their citizens and all of us have a calling to love our neighbors near and far, which would surely include having great joy at the fall of a wicked regime that hurt so many.
The real problem we face is the false security so many of us form from our own perceived might and the might of those who represent us. Action in the world is not bad, what is bad is when we place our hope for the future in such things.
Even if the Taliban had not returned, our best attempts to bring true and lasting peace will fall short in some other way in Afghanistan and elsewhere. True peace will never be realized by our hands, but the Savior’s.
Does that mean we roll over and do nothing in the present time? If our best attempts unravel to terrorist groups and horrible plagues, is the Christian hope to merely sit around and wait for Jesus to return?
No, Scripture clearly calls us to act, but to act humbly. When we get caught up in the grand plans of peace and prosperity that worldly political rhetoric wants us to buy, we inevitably will face reality check after cold, hard reality check. When, instead, we look for what is within our ability to do to serve those around us, not because of our own greatness, but because of the greatness of our Creator, we find a different and — ultimately — more hopeful perspective.
The call to a prayerful and heavenward focus is not a call to inaction, but a call that keeps us focused on what’s truly important. Even the best earthly institutions have always collapsed at some point. Even the greatest earthly prosperity is hit by plague and war.
So what does heavenward interaction look like? It looks like us being less caught up in earthly political intrigue and more caught up in God’s love. Where does our help come from? Our “help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). If our help isn’t from within our own reservoir of strength, we can be less on the defensive and more focused on caring for those around us, showing in both word and deed God’s love and where true peace is rooted.
We have plenty of opportunities immediately ahead of us to figure out concrete ways to do this. Can we right Afghanistan? I’m not military expert, but I know I personally cannot. I do know, though, that God is going to give us opportunities to care for Afghan people displaced by the Taliban.
Can we purge every future plague? I would not count on it, but we sure can do everything in our power to protect each other, be patient with each other as we struggle to agree on exactly how to move forward in this present pandemic and help each other as the lasting impact to people’s mental, physical and financial health lingers long past the last booster shot.
Can we act to bring lasting peace? No, but we can help others know there is One who has and does and will.
We do not need to be mired in the constant blaming and angst and anger the world brings to these and a thousand other problems, because God’s call to us is to love Him and love our neighbor, not attempt to be saviors ourselves.
He’s already done the saving.