Where Was God On 9-11?
Dr. Jim Denison
A good friend in our church recently showed me a travel brochure she picked up years ago while visiting in New York City. It is from the World Trade Center, and describes the twin towers and the view from the topmost observation deck. The brochure’s cover pictures the towers beneath these words: “The closest some of us will ever get to heaven.”
This Wednesday our nation and world will remember the day more than 3,000 souls met their deaths in the worst act of terrorism ever committed against America. We’ll mourn with the surviving families. We’ll think of the 63 babies born after 9-11 to mothers without husbands. And we’ll ask “why?”
It is appropriate today for Christians to ask and be asked three questions. First, where was God on 9-11? Second, how are we to handle the crises of our own lives when they come? Third, how are we to feel about the enemies of our nation today? We’ll seek answers this morning from the most famous Sermon ever preached.
Where was God on 9-11?
First, where was God on “the day everything changed”? While the towers burned and collapsed, the Pengaton was attacked, and Flight 93 crashed into the Pennsylvania soil?
If God is all-powerful, he could have prevented the atrocities of that day. If he were all-loving, he would want to. If you or I were God, 9-11 would not be the most notorious numbers in American history, but just another day. Why did he allow it?
Jesus’ Sermon points to this explanation for 9-11: mankind is free to choose evil.
Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
Jesus tells us, “Do not resist an evil person” (5:39). He instructs us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44). Jesus expects us to meet with evil people and enemies in life. Why must they exist?
God created us to worship him. But worship requires freedom of choice. And we can choose to misuse this freedom for atrocity. Cain did. David did. Saul of Tarsus did. So did Hitler, and Osama bin Laden. Tragically, though in ways far less destructive, so have I. So have you.
Could God have intervened on 9-11? Could he have prevented the planes’ attacks by miraculous means? Of course. But only if he would likewise prevent the results of every sinful choice on the part of every sinful human. Only if he were to remove consequences from our choices. In the final analysis, only if he were to strip us of our freedom. And this he will not do.
So where was God on 9-11? Mourning with us, and more deeply than any of us. Grieving as only a Father made to watch his child die could grieve. Hurting with every hurting spouse, every lonely child, every aching parent’s heart.
In the same way he mourns with us every time our freedom leads to failure, our choices to crime, our sins to suffering. He is “God with us.”
Elie Wiesel’s books told the world of the Holocaust atrocities he survived. No passage is more horrifying than his account in Night of the small boy hanged by the Nazis: “For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
“Behind me, I heard [a] man asking:
“‘Where is God now?’
“And I heard a voice within me answer him:
“‘Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows….'”
His suffering soul was more right than he knew.
How are we to handle hard times?
Now let’s make 9-11 even more personal. How does the Christian faith prepare us for the crises which come to our own lives? You may have known not a single person affected directly by 9-11, but you’ve had your own problems and you’ll have more. Jesus was a realist: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). It’s not “if” but “when” 9-11 comes for us personally.
What can we do to be prepared? The entire Sermon will help us this fall. Today we’ll explore briefly three simple principles.
Don’t live for today (6:19-21).
It’s a fact: moth and rust do destroy all the treasures of earth, and thieves “break in and steal.” Today is uncertain. Its possessions are not secure, its promises often unmet.
No one but the terrorists knew that September 11 would be a day different from any other. People went about their normal morning until the terror began. None of us expects this day to bring catastrophe. Or tomorrow. Neither did they.
And so Jesus advises us, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (v. 20).
Live every day for eternity. Be ready today to meet God. Make sure your sins are confessed, your soul right with your Lord. Make your money and resources, your time and talents a means to the end of doing the eternal, of building God’s Kingdom on earth. Don’t live for today, because one day “today” will be gone.
Don’t worry about tomorrow (6:34).
Then you can obey this word from our Lord: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (6:34).
Jesus says of our daily needs, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (v. 32). His word promises: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
“Tomorrow” doesn’t exist. It’s just a word, not a reality. So plan and prepare for it, but don’t worry about it. Put your needs for tomorrow in the hands of God, today.