North Carolina’s victory over Gonzaga in last night’s NCAA title game is dominating headlines this morning. Meanwhile, four other stories in the news are more troubling:
• A Mississippi woman called 911 yesterday as her car sank into a rain-swollen creek. She tried to direct rescuers to her location, but they arrived too late. They later found her body in the creek outside her car. She was one of four people killed in storms across the South.
• A boiler exploded in an industrial building south of St. Louis yesterday morning, killing three people and damaging three buildings.
• More than 250 people have died in Mocoa, Columbia, after a wall of water and mud hit the town like an avalanche. Rescue crews are desperately digging through the rubble in their search for survivors.
• A bomb blast on a subway train in St. Petersburg, Russia, killed fourteen people. Authorities now say that the attacker, Akbarjon Djalilov, was a suicide bomber.
When I read about the first three tragedies, I felt grief for the victims and their families, but I did not feel a sense of fear or dread. We live in a fallen world where such disasters are an inevitable occurrence (Romans 8:22). We don’t spend much emotional energy fearing what we know we need to accept. As we grow older, we become callous to this reality unless it threatens us directly.
When I heard about the fourth, my visceral reaction was different. I’m guessing yours was the same. Terrorism that is so leaderless and amorphous could seemingly strike anywhere at any time. I don’t see why residents of St. Petersburg would be more susceptible to attack than residents where I live in Dallas, Texas.
Terrorists can seemingly attack anyone at any time, with no warning or way of preventing their brutality. It is impossible to screen every package on every subway in St. Petersburg, much less the world.
Unsurprisingly, “terrorist attacks” and “being a victim of terror” rank numbers two and four in the top ten things Americans fear the most. Our fears are not justified by the numbers: Terrorists killed ninety-four Americans between 2005 and 2015, compared to 706 victims of natural disasters (by my count). And yet natural disasters appear nowhere on our list of fears.
We must not give in to our fear of terrorism, or we give our enemies exactly what they seek. Consider this observation: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'” (Psalm 91:1–2).
A fortress is no help unless we get inside its protection. When the enemy attacks, it’s not enough to believe that the fortress exists or that it is stronger than our foes. We must repent of self-sufficiency and choose to enter and stay inside its walls. Only then can we experience what it promises.
When we do, the psalmist notes, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day” (v. 5). The “terror of the night” is just as real, but you will not live in fear of its destruction.
Here’s the point: we can know the degree to which we trust our fortress by the degree to which we fear our enemies. What fear makes that fact relevant to you today?