This past week we heard again about a successful attack on al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen. This came only weeks after our military and intelligence forces stopped Anwar al-Awlaki, a major leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
These successes in the war on terror follow the amazing operation by the now-famous SEAL Team 6 that stopped Osama bin Laden in May. But only three months later, Taliban forces in Afghanistan shot down a helicopter carrying SEAL Team members, which served as a painful reminder that even these highly trained and well-equipped men can be vulnerable to the crude weapons of our enemies.
As much as we admire our nation's military capabilities, we as Christians need to resist the temptation of putting our trust (ultimately) in our technology and military instead of in God Himself. The Bible is clear that in a fallen world, it is no sin to have an army. But it is a sin to trust in one: "Woe to those who . . . rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!" (Isaiah 31:1). King David committed this sin not by having an army, but by counting his fighting men, and with terrible consequences (2 Samuel 24:1-17).
"Unless the LORD watches over a city, those who guard it keep watch in vain" (Psalm 127:1). The same is true of our country. Our primary citizenship is in heaven, not here (Philippians 3:20). We need to demonstrate that by appealing to the Lord for mercy for whatever country He places us in, not in triumphalist displays when our foes fall. ("Do not gloat when your enemy falls" [Proverbs 24:17].)
Even when we look at our military successes, there may be more happening than meets the eye. I learned several months after Saddam Hussein was apprehended that a Christian outside the United States had committed himself to fasting (one meal per day) for 40 days for the capture of Saddam. Miraculously, Saddam was found on the 40th day of that scheduled fast. I see no coincidence here, but instead see answered prayer. I know of similar, very specific prayers (with regard to the details of the capture) that were answered the week another terrorist was finally stopped in Iraq only a few years ago.
That is not to say that our military should not be thanked for its work in pursing these men. They should be. Romans 13 is clear that when governing authorities justly stop people bent on evil, they are serving as God's ministers. But God can help or frustrate our military as He sees fit. One mission to get bin Laden can be executed incredibly successfully. But one missile shot can likewise kill scores of the same highly trained men.
In a fallen world, we need a military, and good one at that. But our real trust needs to be in the God who watches over nations-and us. Let's direct our earnest prayers and thanks to Him.
Steve Hall contributes to Crosswalk and is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Seminary and an elder at an evangelical Presbyterian church in Virginia.