September 11 revisited
Sixteen months ago, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Cente and the Pentagon sent us reeling. This was not only an attack upon the USA, but an evil attempt to destroy the Western way of life – freedom, democracy, trust and aspiration.It was, indeed, an attack on the world. Not only were some of the cream of New York’s legal and business community wiped out, but so too were members of 80 other nations. The victims came from every continent and represented every creed. The consequences have only begun.With war looming against Iraq, unrest in Pakistan, and continued threats by al-Qaeda, almost anything could happen. What the terror network has started may reach far beyond even their own warped expectations. Safer without religion?The media have filled acres of newsprint and hours of air-time with comment, analysis and predictions. But (with the excellent exception of John Blanchard’s booklet on the subject) very little space has been given to one question. It was screamed aloud by one survivor as she lay, covered in blood and dust, on a New York street: ‘Where are you God?’ One Oxford professor (a chief spokesman for evolutionism) blames religion. He thinks that if we all stopped believing in God and the afterlife, the world would be a safer place! He overlooks the fact that the theory of evolution depends on suffering and death to ‘explain’ progress on the planet.Nothing to sayMany have created a ‘God’ of their own liking – one who scatters favours and turns a blind eye to wrong. It would be understandable if such people abandoned any semblance of faith in the light of September 11. No help is afforded by the media (or even church leaders), who have largely ignored questions about God. Perhaps they are afraid of being ‘politically incorrect’ or offending religious susceptibilities. More likely, however, it is because they have nothing to say. They abandoned God long ago, and can now only explain things in human terms.Fortunately, God himself has not left us without answers. The Bible is his Word to all mankind and, as we read it, he speaks to us. What, then, is God’s answer to these things? Rebellion
Firstly, the Bible tells us that we are all rebels. Every person on earth was born in a state of rebellion against God. He calls this rebellion ‘sin’ – ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory’ (Romans 3:23). No one in the world matches up to God’s standard. We cannot do so, because of our sinful nature. We do wrong because by nature we have a sinful bias.
An arrow that misses its target is called by archers a ‘sinner’. God calls us sinners. Japanese architect Minoru Yanasaki said that the World Trade Centre was intended to represent ‘man’s belief in humanity’. Fair enough; but if that is all we believe in, we must expect trouble from God.Four thousand years ago, another city-tower was erected to trumpet man’s abilities. Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, planned it to symbolise mankind’s independence from God.It was designed – defiantly – to be high enough to withstand any future flood that God might send. In their unbelief, its builders dismissed God’s promise that there would not be another flood (Genesis 9:11).
But their great project – the tower of Babel – was never completed. God intervened to humble their pride (Genesis 11:3-4).Capable of anythingOur proud, rebellious hearts gives rise to many forms of sin. Jeremiah 17:9 says: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure’. We are capable of anything. Some people’s sin is more obvious and outrageous than others, and the terrorists stand in a long line of evil characters. But they have no monopoly on sin and shameful deeds. What about those who went out to loot, hoax and ‘con’ in the aftermath of New York’s tragedy? Were they any better than the terrorists? Certainly not by God’s holy standards.Our political leaders talk of eradicating this evil once and for all. But success, though welcome, can only be temporary. Ultimately, someone, somewhere will commit further atrocities against their fellow men, as the bomb in Bali testifies.Call to repentAccordingly, God calls on everyone to repent. Two thousand years ago, a tower in Jerusalem collapsed, killing the people inside. Jesus Christ commented that they were no worse sinners than anyone else in the city. We must all repent of our sin, he said, so that we shall be ready for death – and judgement – when it comes (Luke 13:1-5). It is ‘a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ if we remain in a rebellious and unforgiven state (Hebrews 10:31). In 1857 the British Empire was shocked and humbled by the ‘Indian Mutiny’. Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon was asked to address the thousands gathered to remember those who lost their lives. The audience expected a message of comfort and hope. What they heard instead was a call to repent – of the treatment meted out to the Indian people, of crooked business dealings, and of moral decadence and pride.
Could it be that God is using the events of September 11 to shake Western society out of its apathy, its greed, its injustice and its lax morals? Darker sideWestern society has much to commend it. The work ethic, technical skills, opportunity to succeed, and civil and religious liberty are the envy of the world. There is courage and generosity, too. Witness the firemen and police who climbed the fire-ravaged towers only to perish when they collapsed.
Note too the millions of dollars worth of food and other aid donated to Afghanistan by the USA and other Western nations. There is a darker side, however. The gun culture, the drug culture, domestic violence, blow-em-up movies. Poor nations and earth’s resources are shamelessly exploited – so that 4% of the world’s population can live in luxury.There is sexual depravity, glorified by Hollywood, proudly paraded on television, and conveyed to the four corners of the earth. As our world continues to mourn nearly 4000 deaths caused by terrorism, it shrugs off the 40 million innocent lives legally destroyed by abortion in the past 30 years – destroyed because they threatened their parents’ selfish lifestyles. Such things should make us take stock of our situation. We participate all too readily in the collective sins of Western society. We must repent of our sinful conduct and turn to God.Intended for good
In spite of all this, God has come to rescue us. And he often uses man’s evil to bring about his own good purposes. We may not understand it now, but later we shall see things clearly (remember the story of Job).Joseph is a case in point. He was ill-treated – nearly murdered – by his brothers. Sold into slavery, he was unjustly accused and cast into jail.. Forgotten for years, he nevertheless kept his faith in God. And at the right time, God raised him up to become chief minister of Egypt – second only to Pharaoh. In accordance with God’s plan, he became the saviour of his starving brothers and their families (as well as many others). Their descendants would eventually become the nation of Israel. Summing up his experiences, Joseph told his brothers: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to … save many lives’ (Genesis 50:20).
Everlasting lifeCenturies later, another came to save his people – God entered time and space in the person of Jesus Christ. Like Joseph, he suffered at the hands of wicked men. They danced with delight at his demise upon a Roman cross.
But God meant it for good. Because Jesus bore the punishment for our sin, those who trust him are freed from its penalty and power. And because Jesus has passed through death, and risen victorious over it, we can experience the everlasting life that only he can give (Romans 6:23). Through faith in Christ we can have forgiveness and peace with God – and be made a member of his family for ever (Romans 5:1; John 1:12; 3:3, 16, 36). All this demonstrates God’s immense love and compassion for sinners like ourselves.Peace with GodOne of the most harrowing aspects of September 11 was hearing the last words of people about to meet a tragic end. Speaking on cell-phones or leaving messages on answering-machines, they wanted their families to know how much they cared about and loved them.Jesus also spoke as he was about to die. He said: ‘Father, forgive them…’ (Luke 23:34). That prayer was answered. Every true Christian is evidence of that, for every one is a sinner saved by grace.Each of us must die, in one way or another. When that day comes, will you be prepared? Will you, ‘being justified by faith … have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?’ (Romans 5:1).Only he can save us from our sins.