A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Dr. Jim Denison
President Bush calls the tragedy of this week “the first war of the twenty-first century.” This has been a week of horror and shock of a kind our nation has never experienced. As long as you live, you will never forget where you were or what you were doing on September 11, 2001. But a mighty fortress is our God.
The World Trade Center towers in New York City stood 1,368 feet tall, comprising 110 stories each. Costing $400 million, they were the tallest buildings in the world when they were completed in 1973. A person could see for 45 miles from their observation decks at the top. They were actually designed to withstand an airplane collision, but the fires from the attacks of September 11 destroyed their infrastructures. If they could collapse, anything manmade can. But a mighty fortress is our God.
Martin Luther wrote Christendom’s most famous hymn in the midst of a world in collapse and change. Reformation and Renaissance were shaking the very foundations of his culture and nation. Psalm 46 became his anchor in the hurricane, his shelter in the storm. He wrote his hymn to claim its promises, to seize this anchor. His hymn has been translated into 183 languages. We will grasp its hope today.
Here our gravest and greatest questions are answered. Let’s ask them together.
Why did this tragedy happen?
The first question any human asks in a crisis like this is, Why? Why did this happen? Many have asked me that question this week, from young people to older adults. As they ask themselves and each other the same question. Why?
There is a political answer to the question, of course. If it is confirmed that Islamic terrorists planned and executed this act of war, we know that they did so in retaliation for our nation’s support for Israel. Please remember that this act would then represent only an extreme, radical fringe within the Arab Muslim world. Please do not associate all Arabs or Muslims with this outrage. Shooting at a mosque in Dallas is terrorism as well. There is a political reason for this assault on our country, and we will know it in time.
But there is a spiritual answer to the question as well, and it deserves our focus today. Our text promises that God is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (v. 1). If he is such a help in trouble, why did he allow this trouble, this tragedy? If he is our refuge and strength, why did this atrocity happen at all?
You know that God made us with free will, so we could choose to worship him. As we remembered just last week, we exist to worship and glorify our Creator. Freedom of will is necessary to this purpose.
And so God has given us free will, and he will not take it away from us. Could God have stopped these terrorists? Yes, by removing their free will. But then he would have to remove yours and mine as well. He would have to prevent every human attempt to sin and attack others. We could no longer be free to worship God or love each other. We could not be human. And this God cannot and will not do that.
As long as there is life on this fallen planet, there will be misused free will and its sin. Not because this is the will of God, but because it is the will of man.
A second spiritual reason for this atrocity is just as clear: Satan is very, very real. Peter called him “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus warned us that he “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Luther was right: “Still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.”
So America has now joined that tragic list of nations which have experienced the atrocity of terrorism on our own soil. From Israel to Ireland, from the Balkans to Indonesia, from Lebanon to Somalia, much of the world knows the grief and outrage we feel today.
Last Sunday we never dreamed we would see the week that has been. But our nation has lived through it. What do we do now?
What do we do now?
Our nation faces tragedy and crisis. So do many of you.
Some of you have family and friends directly affected by this atrocity. Some of you have family and friends scattered over the world, trying to get home. Some of you work in vocations which will be directly affected by this week’s events. We all grieve in shock and pain, as we wonder how our lives will be forever changed.
And some of us face other crises which are very real and personal for us. In the midst of the horrors of these days, I’ve also walked with members of our church family who are in marital crisis, financial crisis, health crisis. Surgeries await; diseases progress; funerals have been held; many are hurting in ways less visible than the tragedy in New York City but no less real.
What do we do now? Our Psalm has the answers.
First, run to God (v. 1).
“God is our refuge and strength,” his word promises us. A “refuge” is a place where we go to escape, to be sheltered and safe. But we must choose to go there. A refuge is no good unless we use it. If we think we can stand the storm, the crisis, the tragedy alone, this refuge cannot help us.
So run to God. The Hebrew word for “refuge” is literally “a place to which we flee.” Don’t walk—run to him. Run to his help, his power, his love, his grace. And seek the strength he offers. His power and help can be yours, if you will ask for it from him.