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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Where is God?

Better to ask that now than afterwards

Where was God on Sept. 11?" millions of Americans have asked for the last year. So it strikes me as strange, as we approach the strong likelihood of war in Iraq, that we've heard so few folks asking the parallel question: "Where might God be if we march against Baghdad?"

I raise the issue as someone who supports the Bush administration in its zeal to bring about "regime change" in Iraq. Nor should there be any apologies for that venture or hesitation about bringing it about. This is not a new war; it is simply the completion of the war of 1990-91. So all the talk about legitimacy is at best a little late. We had that debate more than a decade ago.

But even those of us who think that Saddam Hussein is a very evil man and needs to be eliminated from his place of leadership in the Middle East can easily fall into the trap of moral relativism. We drift too easily into thinking that just because Saddam Hussein is so bad, we must be pretty good. We sing "God Bless America" a couple of times and assume not only that He's on our side, but that we're His special agents.

In doing that, we forget how many times in history God has used one disobedient people to punish another bunch of rebels. And the fact is that the United States these days is a rebel nation against God.

When you start listing comparative atrocities, look at all the blood on our hands just from the legal practice of abortion. The fact that we do it with medical instruments in nicely landscaped clinics instead of with bombs and nerve gas doesn't change the end results. Some folks take comfort in the guess that abortions are down from 1.5 million annually a few years ago to just 1.2 million now. But that's still 12 million babies over the next decade-numbers far beyond Hitler's worst cruelty, and even farther beyond anything Saddam Hussein has been accused of. And we do all this with so much government approval that most of those who have gone to jail in the abortion controversy over the last 29 years have been those who protested it.

Or look at what we've done to the institution of the family. Divorce has apparently slowed down a bit, so that a marriage now has something better than a 50-50 chance of survival. But one of the main reasons for the statistical improvement is that so many people are living together without getting married in the first place. Even our rebel hearts can't end a marriage that never happened. Millions of American children are growing up at least without one, and often without both, of their parents. Everything relating to family law has now become "no-fault" except accusing somebody of being at fault. For that, you might be severely faulted.

We laugh at God's law. Literally. Tune in virtually any TV or cable channel, and see how long you can listen until somebody mocks what God has said is good. The more pointed the mockery gets, the more raucous the laughter. Chastity, fidelity, and heterosexuality are targets of derision. God's name can still be mentioned on TV and in the movies, but it's far more likely to be heard (even on the news) in a blasphemous context than any other way. Not only do we ignore God's wonderful days of rest; probably not one citizen in 50 could even tell you what "The Lord's Day" is all about.

I could go on with the list; so could you. But it's already bad enough.

So how can I argue that we have a right to go after Saddam Hussein? I argue on the basis that it is always right for God-ordained authority to root out wickedness. It is always right to identify those who are doing something wrong-and if they won't listen when you tell them to stop, then to take even stronger action to end the wrongdoing. It is right even for evil people to try to stop evildoing.

But in the process, isn't it also an urgent priority to ask the sober question: "Where is God in all this? What does God Himself think of this project?" Far better to ask that question going in than it might be after some debacle where everything has gone wrong.

I'm grateful for a president who appears to fear God, who seeks counsel from the Bible and from wise advisers. I'm comforted that the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, consults Christian leaders on issues like just-war theories.

But the whole nation, on its way to set another nation straight, ought at least for a few moments to come to a screeching halt and ponder its own habits. Before assuming God's nearness and His blessing, isn't there a little space for introspection and a little time to reflect on our own condition?

I'm glad we're carefully laying out the moral case-and it is powerful and convincing-for war with Saddam Hussein. I just wish we could have as serious a debate about our own moral condition.