Last night on PBS I watched a documentary about the “spiritual aspect” of 9-11. The interesting (though not surprising) thing was that several people affected by 9-11 were interviewed, as well as various clergy who gave their “two cents”, but I didn’t notice one person I would describe as a “Biblical Christian.” There were several atheists, liberal pastors, and “spiritual” pagans who were wrestling with the issue of God and 9-11, but I didn’t hear one answer that would really crystallize how we SHOULD view 9-11. DISCLAIMER: I didn’t watch the entire program because I was switching back and forth between PBS and the local news (trying to find out if Trent Green was still alive). So maybe there were some good answers given that I missed…..but (knowing PBS) I kind of doubt it. So how should Christians view catastrophes? Is God punishing us? Is God helpless? Or does He just not care? Here are three common answers I heard that were ALL WRONG:
1. “God was helpless on 9/11.” Several people had this view, and at first glance it may be attractive. After all it “gets God off the hook.” The idea is that these terrorists attacked, God was powerless to stop them, and God “wept with us all” on 9-11 because of this evil. While its true that God does not smile upon sin--its also true that the Bible teaches without reservation that GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER ALL THINGS and nothing happens without his permission or ordination. The “helpless God” described by these people is not a God at all. If God is God, then God is greater than “earthlings” and therefore not powerless against them. If you believe the Bible, then you must reject this idea. But if God could have stopped 9-11 and didn’t, then doesn’t that make Him?….
2. “God should be blamed for 9-11.” This was another common view. Anger at God over the tragedy. Shaking the fist at God over the loss of life and the devastation. One man in particular comes to mind who said he frequently goes to the beach and “curses and damns” God for 9-11. He said he’s OK with Jesus the Son, but he hates God the Father. I couldn’t help but think of God’s answer to Job in this case: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding…I placed boundaries on the sea and set a bolt and doors, and I said, 'Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop'? Job 38:2-4 , 10-11 (NASB) The irony is overpowering! This man sets at the beach and curses the God who has ordained that the waves stop 3 feet away from him. I’m sorry, but I don’t see a MEAN God here…I see an AMAZINGLY GRACEFUL God. If I were God, I would command the sea to swallow this blasphemer up…but God allows the venom. He gives this man decades of life on earth, food, air, blessings. And the man’s response is to curse God for a tragedy.
As I watched this on TV--I thought of what Tim Smith said in last night’s sermon about how we like to “categorize wickedness.” After all the terrorists are evil (which they are), but Americans are “good.” Those who perished on 9-11 were “innocent” weren’t they? Tim talked about Habakkuk the prophet who cried out to God, and God responded by JUDGING His guilty people with another group of guilty people (the Babylonians). Habakkuk’s initial response was: we may be bad, but not as bad as them. Isn’t this how America thinks as well? Isn’t it legal in our country for a mother to slaughter her own baby? Don’t we have politicians and lobbyists devoting their lives to defending this barbaric practice? Isn’t sin RAMPANT in America (murders, sexual perversions, violence, lying, stealing, idolatry, greed, gluttony, materialism, selfishness, etc.)? OF COURSE IT IS! Do we deserve God’s blessings, or His judgments? We DESERVE judgment….but are given numerous blessings.
3. “There was No God on 9-11.” This was the conclusion many came to on the documentary. 9-11 affirmed (or caused) their atheism. There is no God because God would never allow this to happen. My question is this--What did they think was going to happen to the thousands who perished on 9-11 anyway? Weren’t they all going to someday die? Aren’t WE ALL going to someday die? Those who “survived” 9-11 are still going to die. It’ll be cancer, or a heart attack, or an accident, or another terrorist attack---and THEY, just like the ones who died on 9-11--will either go to HEAVEN or HELL, depending upon what they did with Christ. Was He their Lord or not?
The real tragedy of 9-11 is not that so many died (though that is tragic)…the REAL tragedy is that so many died…….and entered eternal torment on that day. I heard numerous “teary eyed” testimonies from “those left behind” about how the dearly departed was up “drinking a beer with Jesus” or something along those lines. I feel bad for those who lost people on that day. Those who lost spouses, parents, kids, or siblings have experienced tragedy that I’ve never known. I won’t pretend to know how they feel---because I don’t. But here’s the cold hard truth----a lot of “good people” died on 9-11...and every one of those “good people” were evil. By who’s definition? God’s. You may be surprised to know who Jesus described as “evil.” Jesus described parents who love and provide for their children as evil. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” --Matt 7:11 (NASB) Jesus isn’t being cruel here. In fact He almost mentions it in passing, like it’s a foregone conclusion. Man is evil. Even “good” men are evil. I am evil. You are evil. Our very nature is evil, when you compare it to GOD’S PERFECT, HOLY, AND JUST standard.
Jesus said something else that sheds light on this topic. A “catastrophe” occurred in His day in which a tower fell and many were killed (sound familiar?). Commenting on this, Jesus said: "Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:4-5 (NASB) Do you see what Jesus does here? He immediately takes the tragedy and turns it into an eternal, spiritual lesson. A tower fell and people died. Sad? Yes. Uncommon? No. People die everyday in a million different ways. Jesus’ point is---where will you go after you die? Repent or you will perish. A tower falling on you is a picnic compared to Eternal Hell. And a tower falling on you will be long forgotten in Heaven’s Glorious Throne Room.
As my wife and I watched the PBS documentary, I noticed our different reactions. She was saddened because the people were SO LOST and CLUELESS about spiritual matters. I was IRRITATED with them because of their lack of respect for God. I think we we’re both right in a way. These people are NOT innocent, but they ARE clueless. Erin recognized both truths and responded like Christ. I responded like Christ too, eventually, it just took me more time. One man talked about his “opinion” about where God was on 9-11. He took the “God was helpless” approach---but he said in the last five years he has often wished he could “have God’s phone number” so that he could talk to the Lord about what happened. Laughingly he said it didn’t even have to be “toll free” he would gladly pay for the call. Erin and I both felt compassion towards this lost soul. If I had been their I would have told him God DOES have a phone number: John 3:16. Repent and turn to Christ. You can know God. You can talk to God. You can spend eternity with God. But first you have to recognize evil, and understand that it is growing in your own heart. You then have to despise the evil and love the Lord enough to turn from sin and follow the Savior.
9-11 was a tragedy. No doubt about it. But more are coming. Worse are coming! We KNOW this. Jesus has TOLD US this. Tim preached Sunday night about the Great Tribulation and 2/3 of the Earth’s population perishing. Its going to make 9-11 look like a cake walk in comparison. And yet the world goes on….cursing God, blaming God, ignoring God, and a few (very few) worshiping God. Don’t worry about terrorists catching God off guard. He is sovereign over everything. The world will end the way He says it will end, and you will die on the day He has appointed for you to die (see Ps. 139:16). The REAL question is not: where was God on 9/11? The REAL question is: why has God been SO GRACIOUS to our planet and not judged us already? Why hasn’t God allowed the Islamic terrorists to overthrow America like the Babylonians did Judah? According to Jesus we’re ALL evil. We’re all just pigs wallowing in our sinful slop--its just that we “categorize” our slop. Their slop is MORE EVIL than our slop. When in reality all SLOP is offensive to the Holy, Righteous, and Perfect God of the Universe. I’m thankful Jesus paid for my “slop” on the cross. I don’t deserve that grace and neither do you. But I’ll end this blog with His warning words: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Earthly tragedies are sad, but eternal tragedies are horrifying. Heaven and Hell are real places and everyone is going to one or the other. Repent and follow Christ. Then rest in His absolute, complete, powerful, and total sovereignty--when the next “tragedy” strikes.