For quite some time, in small ways and great, people have been sensing the evil nature of the global economic system. From bizarre conspiracy theorists to people complaining about the callousness of banks, from anti-globalization protestors to the Slow Food Movement, from labor unions angry at heartless restructuring and downsizing to Christian pastors and bible teachers revolted by the excesses they see around them and who try to get their flocks to worship Jesus not cars and houses. These messengers have at first been quite and reasonable. They brought out their statistics on global wealth distribution or their bible verses on serving God and Mammon, they reasoned with management, they lobbied for controls, they started consumer movements and took on Big Business. But largely they have not been heard. So now they have resorted to being loud and unreasonable, now they hold anti-globalization rallies, attack McDonalds restaurants, and fly planes into buildings that house power and trade.
The terrorists are half-right. They have sensed that globalization is evil and unjust. They have sensed that the world is not listening. And they are doing something about it. Muslims are very sensitive to idolatry. Anything that puts itself in the same category as Allah is called shirk and seen as being, by very nature, wicked. Shirk is not so different from the classical Greek concept of hubris where anyone who dared think themselves on the same level as the gods brought swift judgment on themselves. [This was the sin of Icarus who flew too close to the sun.] The terrorists live in the countries most affected by the evils of global commercial domination. They see their poverty being created by others and their people being exploited. They watch their cultures being ripped apart by the forceful intrusion of foreign values and commodities (now as much Chinese goods as Western goods, globalization is not just a Western game any more). Their religion is not respected and their sacred spaces are invaded and defiled. Like Jesus clearing the traders from the temple, the terrorists want to be the scourge of materialism, and drive it from their countries, and especially from the cities and places they regard as holy.
The fact that God sometimes uses evil men to bring us a message is a theological problem for some people and is actually the central problem of the book of Habakkuk.
(Habakkuk 1:13 NKJV) You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?
Basically, when we fail to listen to the good and reasonable people God sends the bad and unreasonable people to rattle our cages and shake us out of our complacency. This can reach the point where He allows wicked people to invade and destroy and inflict great harm on the righteous until the righteous return and repent. The book of Judges teaches this lesson at length. In the end, those who have afflicted the righteous, even though God has used them, will be destroyed. And when the wicked are destroyed they are destroyed completely. This complete destruction was the fate of Assyria and Babylon, two of the empires that were used to punish Israel. Islamic terrorists may punish the materialistic “Christian” West but in the end it will be destroyed as these empires were.
The terrorists are God’s messengers preaching the wickedness of materialism and idolatry. They will scourge us until we repent. Then they will be destroyed completely for their wickedness. God will deal with the terrorists once we have listened to their “message”. They will be given power to afflict the world, and in particular the forces of the World Market, until people really start crying out to God. We are being given a chance to “buy time” through repentance. Things do not have to quickly and inevitably proceed to an end-times scenario. The Market does not have to quickly become as lawless and idolatrous as Revelation portrays. That will happen one day, but we need not stand by helplessly and let it happen just now. There is still time to repent, regulate and restrain. There is still time to practice justice and truth. The Anti-Christ has not yet been unleashed, there are still many more people groups to be reached with the gospel so that living and vital churches can be planted. We do not need to give world to the Devil before the last possible moment. Until that day we must stand up to the idolatry around us and preach repentance so that some may hear and be saved.
The terrorists are making everyone and particularly Christians ask some very good questions:
a) Why are the terrorists doing this?
b) Why is God allowing this?
c) What is this leading to?
d) What are some of the causes?
e) How should Christians respond?
The quick answers are respectively:
Why are they doing this?
The terrorists are doing this because they sense that Western materialism is immoral, idolatrous, unjust and wicked and supports “sinners” such as the nation of Israel. They are half-right in their perceptions but all wrong in their methods.
Why is God allowing this?
God is allowing this because He wants us to repent of greed, which is idolatry and to turn from worshipping Mammon to worshipping God and to practice justice to the poor, including economic justice. He also wants to prevent the emergence of the ruthless, idolatrous, immoral and blasphemous World Market portrayed in the book of Revelation until its time is at hand. God is going to stop that World Market forming in one of two ways. Firstly if we fail to repent it will be destroyed through economic uncertainty, terrorist attacks, loss of value on the stock markets and attacks on key items of infrastructure. Lawlessness will tear apart that which itself has become lawless. The economic consequences will be severe, recession will come to stay and the triumph of multi-national globalization will be delayed by decades as the funds dry up and companies go bankrupt. People will stop traveling; and the internationalization of the world will be delayed. God will have restrained the market for a time.
The other way He can restrain the Market is through repentance, regulation and the rule of law so that prosperity is earned justly and the poor live and work in a fair and just economic structure and are paid wages they can live on. If this happens then our prosperity will break forth as the noonday sun. God is not opposed to prosperity, in fact He creates it (Isaiah 45:7) and gives us the power to generate wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18) but He is steadfastly opposed to idolatry. In the same passage that He tells Israel that He is giving them the power to make wealth He warns them three sins that this could lead to. These sins are about forgetting God (Deut 8:14), thinking their own strength and power were responsible for their prosperity (Deut 8:17) and turning to idols (Deut 8:19). The consequence if they did this is that they would “surely perish” (Deut 8:19,20). It is obvious to even the most casual observer that God has given the West great power to make wealth and it has largely forgotten God, and become self-congratulatory and idolatrous, (in the sense that greed and covetousness and materialism are forms of idolatry) - so judgment has begun to fall.
So the rule of thumb seems to be that God desires to prosper us and will prosper us up to that point where our prosperity causes us to turn away from Christ and obedience to the gospel or when it causes us to forget God and become self-congratulatory or when it becomes twisted into greed and materialism and turns into idolatry. God is allowing terrorism because we have turned from Him in our prosperity. His message to us is: “Repent or you will surely perish”.
What is this leading to?
This is leading to a time of decision. Either we will make sure that economic justice is done and that the world is a less predatory place or we will be treated as we have allowed the poor to be treated. If we show mercy we will be blessed with mercy (Matthew 5:7) but if we are merciless then God will be merciless to us (James 2:13). The end of the war in Afghanistan will not mean the end of terrorism or the end of Islamic hostility. There are millions of angry radicalized Muslims around the world and our systems are vulnerable. The prayers and repentance that followed the World Trade Center attacks have bought us time in which to do justice and practice righteousness – not to continue oppression. If we continue in oppression the attacks will continue and increase.
I make no claims to be able to tell the future yet my feeling is that this is not going to lead to World War Three or Armageddon in the very immediate future. This may well be a part of the prelude to the end times. My assessment is that the current conflict is a strategic battle prior to the formation of the Global Market which wants to manifest itself now but which God wants to keep restrained for a while yet. It involves setting the stage for the end times but is not yet the end times. The gospel has to be preached to all the nations first and as a missionary I can say that is approaching completion but is not yet complete by the standards of having a functioning church in each ethnic and language group. I may be wrong but I think we need at least another twenty years to complete the Great Commission. This conflict may lead to the collapse of Islam or it’s opening to the gospel. As usual God seems to be doing many different things at once.
What are some of the causes?
The next section of this book, entitled “The Pressing Problem” deals with how the excesses of globalization are causing economic injustice, which then induces radicalization, which then leads to terrorism. The causes are multiple and are both intentional and unintentional, religious and economic, structural and personal, legal and illegal. There are also complex interplays among them so that certain economic practices such as charging interest have religious overtones in Islamic countries.
How should Christians respond?
The last two sections of the book examine Christian responses to an unjust market (Prosperity With Justice) and to violence, terrorism and religious conflict (Peace-Making In An Imperfect World). These Christian responses involve the following steps:
1. Detachment from unjust trade and non-involvement in violent reactionary responses.
2. Creating prosperity based on production and “the power to make wealth”. The power to make wealth is defined as a God-given capacity based on the industrious application of specific and focused wisdom and knowledge towards constructive and useful ends.
3. The forsaking of foolish and non-productive ways of attaining prosperity such as gambling, magic, idolatry, dishonesty and speculation based on “fortune”.
4. The attainment of personal mastery, a Christian work ethic, and a balanced perspective so we do not operate reactively but proactively.
5. Solution-focused construction of wise and appropriate responses and advocating these practical solutions to those who have the power to implement them or make decisions based upon them. Such solutions include both evangelism and social justice.
6. Practical peace-making on both a personal and community level and between religious communities – even where no possibility of agreement on doctrine exists.
This next section is a non-technical look at how unjust international trade is both intentionally and unintentionally creating injustice and how this injustice is producing terrorism.