Sunday, May 1, 2011, at 11:35 p.m., American president Barack Obama addressed the nation from the East Wing of the White House with these momentous words:
“Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”1
The moment was euphoric for many, but what was there about one man’s death that compelled a presidential midnight announcement, and such scenes of rejoicing thereafter? What’s a terrorist?
Terrorism comes from the Latin word terrere, which means “to frighten.”2
It is the use of violence and intimidation to terrorize the masses for political or religious gain.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, terrorists use these tactics to convince citizens that their government is powerless to protect them, and to get publicity for their causes.3
But these terms and definitions explain less than they should and raise more questions than they answer. How do you compare the horror of almost 3,000 people dead in one day in New York and Pennsylvania to the sustained slaughter of Americans through the violence of the tobacco industry? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 443,000 people die from cigarette smoking in America every year—more annual deaths by tobacco use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.4
Has terrorism, perhaps, been overrated? Are we, perhaps, looking in the wrong direction with our focus on suicide bombers, airline hijackers, and biological and chemical warfare? Are these, ultimately, why millions in America and elsewhere live in the grip of constant fear?
In 2008 the Barna Group conducted a survey that explored religious beliefs about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Satan, and demons. The 1,871 respondents were all self-described Christians.5 Seventy-eight percent believed God is an “all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe who rules the world today.” But 40 percent strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Only 26
percent strongly disagreed with that statement.6
And even more puzzling: About half of those who believed that Satan is merely a symbol of evil also agreed that a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces such as demons.7
George Barna explains: “Most Americans, even those who say they are Christian, have doubts about the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural world.” One reason? “Hollywood has made evil accessible and tame, making Satan and demons less worrisome than the Bible suggests they really are.”8
Can you imagine fighting a war and not knowing your enemy? Clearly a losing strategy. And yet it’s the case with so much of our world today, and even among those whose uniform and insignia identify them as Christians, the supreme fighting units of God’s operation on earth. Many Christians “do not know that their enemy is a mighty general who controls the minds of evil angels, and that with well-matured plans and skillful movements he is warring against Christ to prevent the salvation of souls,” Ellen White writes. “Among professed Christians, and even among ministers of the gospel, there is heard scarcely a reference to Satan, except perhaps in incidental mention in the pulpit.”9
In God’s Word there’s no ambiguousness about Satan’s existence, his motives, or his future. This former “guardian cherub” was once a master musician in heaven. His heart became lifted up because of his beauty and became flooded with pride, jealousy and discontent. Attempting to usurp God’s authority, he convinced one third of the angels to conspire with him (Eze. 28:14-17; see Rev. 12:4). War erupted in heaven. In the end “the great dragon” and his evil angels were cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-9).
He brought his terror operation to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were living in perfect bliss. But Eve became bored and allowed him to deceive her into partaking of the fruit that God had forbidden. That small bite was more lethal than any atomic bomb or chemical device. It was a bite that bit back—and has echoed through the ages as a death sentence to humanity (Gen. 3:1-6).
Today we live in a world in which fear fills the hearts of men, women, and children, and in which the devil’s terror operates both within and outside of society’s organized normalcy. Some of his most destructive expeditions, though deemed perfectly legal, are nonetheless perfectly lethal. Whether his tactics are legal or extrajudicial, success requires his defeat and elimination. The world deserves a much greater victory than the one announced on May 1, 2011. And glory to God, we have got it. Listen up, everyone.
“Glory to God in the highest,” sing the angels over the hills outside Bethlehem, “and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14). “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (verse 11). This referential announcement pointed to something the shepherds could relate to. For God had been giving promises since the Eden tragedy, to assure His children that evil and cruelty, pain and sorrow, terror and tragedy would not last forever: The serpent’s head would be crushed, as promised (see Gen. 3:15). He would bless the whole world through Abraham’s seed, as He had assured the patriarch (Gen. 12:3). God, who is greater than any military or government entity, promised that in the end His power would be victorious over evil. In Jesus He made that promise reality by sacrificing His life for humanity, and giving us all a chance to be free from all fear.
Political terrorism has not yet been wiped out despite Bin Laden’s death. And in the spiritual world we are still in a mopping-up operation. So how can we equip ourselves for the remaining battles?
Much like the Department of Homeland Security gives out guidelines for how to prepare for or prevent terrorist attacks, the Bible also lays out instructions for spiritual warfare: “Put on the full armor of God,” in order to “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). While enemy attacks continue we are never left to fend off his advances alone.
Ellen White wrote, “The Lord permits His people to be subjected to the fiery ordeal of temptation, not because He takes pleasure in their distress and affliction, but because this process is essential to their final victory.”10
One day soon Christ will return as King of kings and Lord of lords to rescue us all from the devil’s ghastly acts. The number of viewers will shatter every Nielsen rating ever released (see Rev. 1:7). It will be a spectacular occasion, a news story for the ages.