Some days we never forget, for they are indelibly imprinted on our hearts and minds. I remember exactly where I was when I learned of the death of President Kennedy nearly 40 years ago. Such shocking historical events are etched deeply in our memory banks. September 11, 2001 is a date that we will never forget. Besides the horror we felt for those directly involved, these events struck terror into our own hearts as we imagined being there personally, maybe especially in those hijacked airplanes. Flying produces some fear in all of us anyway, and now we have one more fear to cope with.
I remember July 17, 1996, the date that TWA Flight 800 exploded. Upon seeing the news late that evening, the flight number rang a bell with me, and when I ran upstairs to look at tickets in my drawer for upcoming flights, I saw that I was booked on Flight 800 a week or two later. On Monday, September 10, Theresa and I flew into Logan just before midnight, just hours before this unbelievable terrorist attacked happened Tuesday morning. Originally, several of us were scheduled to fly to NYC early Tuesday morning for a meeting, but later re-scheduled the flight Wednesday morning (which flight we obviously never took).
Many people are asking the same question: WHERE WAS GOD ON SEPTEMBER 11? One of our campus students at Suffolk University, Dan Sewell, had a professor who stated: “This proves that God doesn’t exist.” Dan stood up, voiced his opinion to the contrary, and walked out. The professor called attention to an age old dilemma, which is stated in some way similar to this: “If there is a loving, all powerful God, he wouldn’t allow such things to happen. So, if he exists, he is either not loving or not all powerful. Therefore, the best case is that he simply does not exist.”
If we believe the Bible, we believe in the God of the Bible – but the question remains: Where is God in all of this? Why does he allow such things to happen? For starters, we can know that God hates evil and those who cause it. Psalm 11:5 puts it this way: “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.” However, God obviously allows people to commit evil. Isaiah 45:7 states: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Further, Lamentations 3:38 reads: “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
God has an ideal will as expressed in the Bible (that men would be righteous and not sin); but he also has an allowed will. He allows sin (though he hates it) because of the nature of man. We are free moral agents, not robots. I remember trying to help a woman who had been sexually abused repeatedly by a close relative, horrific acts for which she blamed God for allowing to happen. I tried to help her see that God had, through his Word, begged her relative not to do such vile things. But for God to intervene would have meant his interference with the man’s free will, and that he will not do.
Another related issue regards the reason for our existence on earth. We are here to learn spiritual truths, and the necessity of cause and effect is an essential part of this learning. In a physical sense, the knife that can carve turkey for dinner can wreck havoc when used on another human. In a spiritual sense, going against God’s spiritual principles must have an adverse effect in the lives of those who choose evil. The law of the harvest is one big lesson that we simply must learn – you reap what you sow.
Many times in the OT, God brought punishment on the nations, including his own nation. In describing such punishment, very graphic terms were used by God, including warnings that the people would eat your own babies and see their pregnant women ripped open by invading armies. What we forget God, he will send us some wake-up calls. God may not directly cause such things, but he sees them coming and uses them to bring about repentance – that much is sure. What if only bad things happened to bad people? We would be motivated to serve God our of selfish motives, rather than choosing him in spite of the challenges of so doing.
What is God’s view of America’s retaliation against the terrorists who perpetrated the atrocities of September 11? CNN conducted an online survey a few days after the tragedy, asking people to register their main feeling at the time – either shock, sadness, anger. At that point, the reaction was that about 25% were still in shock, another 25% just sad, and 50% engrossed in anger, desiring retaliation. The Psalms have many passages where David in effect asks God to smite his enemies. “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked” (Psalm 3:7). However, in harmonizing other Scriptures on the subject, it must be said that the motivation for vengeance must be a surrendered desire for the vindication of God’s righteousness, and not a cry for personal vengeance. Perhaps a good way to state it is that we should want to see justice rather than vengeance.
The words of Psalm 37:7-9 are helpful to me: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.  For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” When we look to the New Testament for direction, two passage stand out: Matthew 5:38-48 and Romans 12:17-21. Take the time to read both of them carefully.
I have known people who have been controlled by their vengeful spirit, and appear to be living only to satisfy that vengeance. Without exception, such people are absolutely miserable, and if they live to see their vengeanceful spirit satisfied, they are still not at peace. Jesus’ way is a better way. I remember a woman I knew when we lived in the Northwest whose husband had been killed by a drunk driver, and her child crippled for life. Yet she went to the man in jail who had caused such calamity in her family and persuaded him to study the Bible. She was definitely imitating Jesus on this one.
Romans 13:1-5 teaches that the government has the right to take life in the pursuit of legal justice. The real challenge here is what we think we can or should do as individual disciples. The war question is a big one, but whether we can as disciples be involved or not, the government has the right to take life – that much is sure. What I’m concerned about are our attitudes right now – anger, hatred, and bitterness, even on the part of disciples! However, I do want our society protected, which will require what our government has vowed to do and is now doing in retaliation.
What does God desire that we learn from our current situation? He wants us to be sobered, examine our own lives and get our priorities straight. What if we had been on the airplane? Would we have felt ready to meet our Maker? As we face the future with its uncertainties, we have to get our attitudes straight. In Isaiah 8:13-14, the prophet says: “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary.” In other words, if we fear God in the right way, we need no longer fear man. Our times are in the Lord’s hands, and “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).
The need for prayer is huge right now, for God definitely wants us to go to him. People directly affected by the events of September 11 need our prayers. Our sister, Lauren Peters, in the New Hampshire Region, lost her dad on United Flight #175. She and her family will need ongoing support and encouragement. When the Memorial Service for him ended, the adjustments were just starting. Prayers for our government officials should be daily (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We need to be in the Bible, gaining the comfort that God offers us (Read Psalm 43). He wants us to get help from others in working through our feelings. The consistent thing that all counselors and psychologists are saying is that people must talk. Fear and stress are causing family tensions and conflicts – we must talk it out and pray it out. We must continue to help our children with their feelings and fears, and we have many resources now available to guide us in meeting this need.
Overall, God wants us to trust him for the bigger picture. He always is working things toward spiritual ends (Romans 8:28). I have been perplexed for years about how God will open up the Mideast to the gospel. Apartheid fell in South Africa; the Berlin Wall in Germany; and the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. But only God knows how the walls in the Mideast are going to fall. Prayerfully, the current events in connection with the terrorist attacks on America are a part of the answer.
One thing is certain for God’s people: he wants us to love and serve others. Not only must we love our enemies, we must be careful about assuming who they are! Prejudice and stereotyping is a dangerous thing. All from the Mideast, and all from the Muslim religion, are not in harmony with the radical terrorist extremists, any more than all who claim allegiance to the Christian faith are like the Davidians of Waco. Although we do not agree with the mainline Muslim teaching, it is not responsible for the atrocities of September 11. The Blacks and Hispanics have been exposed to racial stereotyping for years; let’s not widen that unrighteous circle. Keep in mind that a number of Muslims also lost their lives in the recent attacks.
God’s love for people is real, and he wants us to share that with them. I think of all who lost their lives and wonder how many were shared with, and perhaps more poignantly, I wonder how many could have been shared with and were not! As workers in New York City were digging feverishly right after the tragedy, hoping to find one person alive out of the hundreds and thousands dead, I couldn’t help but wonder how hard are we were digging for souls? How many negative results are we willing to endure and keep digging, looking for just one open person? It is time for us to be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). Let us love one another as disciples of Jesus, appreciating each other and each day as never before. And let us dedicate ourselves to sharing this love with the lost with more zeal than ever.
In thinking back to the events of September 11, I have tried to give you some answers, but answers will never fully satisfy nor will they take away the pain and horror of all that’s happened. I am reminded of what I wrote in the Epilogue of my Victory of Surrender book. I said that some things I may come to understand; some things I may never understand; but the one thing I must understand is that God is a loving God and is in control of all that happens in our world. That has to be our heart in this circumstance – learn what you can and do all you can, while fighting to deepen your trust in God. And to him be the glory!
—Gordon Ferguson (October 2001)