Last week’s blog looked at the intercession which was made during the crisis of World War 2 by those who had prophetic insight and faith to grasp that God could and would act in answer to prayer. We considered such intercession on both a national scale and among individuals. It clearly undergirded military victories and the final success against an evil regime. This week we continue to look at some of the lessons we can learn from that intercession.
One very important fact to keep in mind as we do this is that in the bible experiencing war is always seen as an act of judgement on God’s part. This is not an easy principle to grasp especially when what is seen as a seemingly “innocent” nation is attacked by a ruthless, unprincipled antagonist. The idea that an “innocent” nation in such a situation is under judgement goes against deep emotions of loyalty, against a sense of justice, and, of course, in a godless world, against rationality! If the nation happens to be our own nation then the idea of judgement is all the more strongly rejected! But the bible is quite clear on the issue. God, speaking to his prophet Ezekiel spoke of “My four dreadful judgements, ’Sword and famine and wild beasts and plague” (See Ez. 14:12-21). To be caught up in a war (the “sword”) is to be under judgement, whether the country which is attacked thinks itself innocent or not. The twentieth century European (and world) wars are rarely, if ever, seen as judgements, but to the prophet’s eyes it is all too clear. The twentieth century was labelled by one well-known historian as “the century of slaughter” – world-wide slaughter; and not without reason! Biblically it was a century of judgement. Germany, Russia and, yes, Britain and America, along with many other countries, came under the judgement of war. Wisdom lies not in claiming innocence but in trying to understand why it came to us. “Where were we at fault?” is the proper question to ask.
This was a concept that initially stumbled the prophet Habakkuk. When God told him that Judah was going to be ravaged by the merciless Babylonian army, he expressed great indignation at the idea of such a godless power being let loose on his country which, though not perfect on any count, was far less deserving of judgement than the attacker. This was his viewpoint despite the fact that he knew perfectly well that Judah’s sister nation, Israel, had a century or so before been ravaged by the equally murderous Assyrians and that the event had been clearly recognised by the prophets of the time as a judgement . Indignant, he in fact challenged God on the question of judgement through an evil power. He was partially helped when he learned from God that evil Babylon would itself be judged in due course, but he nonetheless had to accept the fact that Judah was going to come under judgement for turning its back on God and was going to suffer grievously from the Babylonian war machine before Babylon in its turn suffered.
Two weeks ago in our blog we quoted the text of Abraham’ Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War. In an astonishing way he recognised very clearly the nature of war as a judgement of God. He wrote, “And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?” He did not condemn the Southern States for their slavery or seek in any other way to justify the Northern States for their actions but recognised that the whole of the nation, North and South, was under judgement. He was not offended as was Habakkuk. More astonishing still, he clearly recognised that the judgement could bring about a national reformation and had a profitable purpose. That “reformation” would lead to a turning away from the arrogance and pride which had rejected God in the midst of the success and prosperity of the growing nation. Lincoln was remarkably biblically literate and had a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of the judgements of God and that war was one of those judgements.
Thus when the likes of Rees Howell and Derick Prince, whom we mentioned last week (and the many others whom we shall never know of), took on a burden of prayer for the nation as the Nazi threat was carrying everything before it, they were in fact praying for a nation that was under judgement. Much prayer had been made in 1939 for peace to prevail, but that had not been answered in the way that was hoped. War came; judgement fell. What in effect was happening with those who went on interceding was that they were praying essentially on the theme of “Lord, in wrath remember mercy”. They could not turn the judgement (wrath) away but their prayer was effective for mitigating the judgement of war. This had become Habakkuk’s position with God when he learned that his prayer would not prevent judgement; he pleaded for mercy in the midst of judgement. He could not prevent Judah from being overrun and exiled to Babylon, for that was a decreed judgement of God, but he could plead for acts of mercy from God in the midst of it and he could plead for an ultimate restoration of Judah. Thus when “wrath” comes, God remains open to a cry for mercy. That should not in any way deaden our recognition or de-sensitise us to the appalling horrors of war as a judgement, but it does mean we are not left utterly helpless.
At the moment we are, as a nation, already under the judgement of God, though not at present under the judgement of war. The present judgement is witnessed in the growing confusion and incompetence of government, in the way the nation has been “given over” by God to its own increasing moral and social collapse, and to its worship of pleasure and treasure. This judgement is not, of course, peculiar to our own nation; it is in fact happening world-wide. In such a wide scenario strong, evil men are likely to gain power and look for conquests, if need be by force of arms. They in turn become the human agents of war (or terror), and become the instruments of judgment. This process of development is one that we are becoming more and more familiar with in our world and is by no means unk nown at this time in our history. It is very sobering and should lead (in Lincoln’s term) to a spirit of humiliation.
With a world bent on ignoring its Maker and pursuing its own libertine agenda, the call to God that he might none the less release acts of mercy is very urgent for our world. Looking for him, however, to hold back judgement itself is much less secure. But, judgement or not, the intercessory call for God to fulfil the mission to the Gentile world, to gather his own and to bring in His Kingdom remains paramount and will certainly be answered.