by David Sisler

To say that Denyce Graves has a beautiful voice is to say that Billy Graham is just another preacher, that Mark McGwire is just another batter, or that Neil Armstrong is just another pilot. As Ms. Graves sang "The Lord's Prayer" during the worship service at the National Cathedral, Laura Bush, with simple elegance, leaned over to her husband and whispered, "Beautiful!"

"And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Or, from another Gospel, "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

It is one of those parts of God's Word which offends me. If I had been given an editor's blue pencil, I would have stricken through those words. Continuing to rethink the death and destruction terrorists have brought to the United States of America, I ask God, "Does your command to forgive, in the same fashion as I have been forgiven, extend to the perpetrators of these desperately wicked deeds?"

Nine in 10 Americans (according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll) express confidence that the terrorists will be caught and punished.

Nine in 10 support military action against those who are involved, whether they are individuals or nations.

Even if it means war, 86 percent supports military action.

Did God mean that forgiveness should be extended to these terrorists? Yes, he did. And we have to be perfectly clear about that.

We understand that the word "forgive" means: "To send away, to dismiss, to wipe off."

Does that mean that if we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, we are excusing the loathsome acts of hijacking, murder, and destruction? Absolutely not!

God's Word gives us laws of conduct and penalty for the violation of those laws. The fact that he dictated certain penalties must mean that God intends for there to be punishment. The instigators of Tuesday's crimes, and those who harbored and gave sanctuary to them, must be uncovered and brought to justice.

If capital crimes demand capital punishment, what is Jesus talking about when he says to pray for personal forgiveness and to extend forgiveness?

When we pray for our own forgiveness, we are asking for deliverance "from the penalty divinely, righteously, imposed." When we pray for the forgiveness of our enemies we are extending to them the same potential deliverance from the ultimate penalty.

But forgiveness does not mean that we allow the terrorists to escape, that we allow them to continue. God's Word teaches that there are consequences for sin, even forgiven sin, and Tuesday's acts of barbarism are sin!

When the people of Israel took possession of Jericho, they were ordered to leave all of the spoils of the battle behind in the city, to take none of them into their personal possessions. The penalty for disobedience was death by stoning. One man, Achan, disobeyed, and when he was discovered, repented. Then he and all those who were complicit in his guilt were executed.

There are consequences for sin - temporal and eternal. The repentance of Achan meant that he would not have to face eternal punishment. The repentance of Achan did not mean that he would be spared the immediate punishment. And he was not spared.

There is such an incredible difference between the forgiveness of sin and the consequence of sin. The sin that God has forgiven, the sin that will never face us in the day of judgment, may be the sin that is before us for as long as we live. No one who places personal faith in Jesus of Nazareth, God's Son, will ever pay for a sin eternally. But there is no assurance from scripture that as long as we live, we will not endure the inevitable effects of the evil that we set in motion.

The terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 and flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon, the terrorists who hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 and crashed it into the Pennsylvania countryside made the down payment on their eternal punishment. Those who sponsored them, supported them, and directed them must pay for their actions. They must be discovered, and then we must extract the punishment established in the laws of God and man, the punishment consequenced by their actions.

Eternal punishment - or forgiveness - is God's prerogative, but he placed the responsibility for the execution of earthly laws squarely in our hands. Jesus' direction to pray for their forgiveness does not mean that the terrorists are allowed to escape what they have done.


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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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