Whatever happens in the next ninety-eight years, 11 September 2001 will have a lasting place in the history of the twenty-first century.
As we all know, it was the day on which religious fanatics crashed two hijacked commercial airliners into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre and another into the Pentagon, in Washington, DC.
The World Trade Centre was the tallest building in the world (if we include its 347-foot radio mast), but less than two hours after the first plane struck it was reduced to 1.5 million tons of rubble, becoming a grave for nearly 6,000 men, women and children.
The Times called 11 September ‘The day that changed the world’ and the Daily Mail said ‘History will never be the same again’.
The media were soon awash with questions: How could such a thing happen? Why had the US intelligence services not suspected anything? What should be done in response? But for many people there was a more fundamental question: Where was God?
The argument behind the question goes back thousands of years, and runs something like this: If God were all-powerful he could prevent evil and suffering; if he were all-loving he would prevent them.
Since evil and suffering do exist, God must be either powerless, loveless or non-existent.
That sounds pretty impressive, and you might be inclined to go along with it. But have you ever stopped to think what we are left with if God does not exist?
If we have no Creator, the Oxford scientist (and atheist) Peter Atkins is right to call mankind ‘just a bit of slime on a planet’. Why should we be remotely concerned if 6,000 human beings get crushed to death? Do we get traumatised when we see slime trodden on or sluiced down a drain?
Logically, an atheist’s response to the Manhattan massacre should be to yawn, believing that human beings are nothing more than pointless collections of atoms and molecules. But he doesn’t yawn; like everyone else he weeps, grieves and reflects – proof positive that he is more than a bag of biological bits and pieces.
Nor does the atrocity of 11 September 2001 raise any moral issue if God does not exist. Richard Dawkins, another Oxford atheist, says that we live in a universe where there is ‘no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’.
This is a catastrophic idea. Without a God who sets moral standards that are transcendent and universal, nobody has the right to decide whether anything is good or evil, just or unjust, right or wrong.
Had you realised this? The fact that we call anything ‘evil’ points towards the existence and relevance of God, not away from them.
A broken relationship
So where does the God of the Bible fit into the picture? Here are a few Bible statements that help to answer the question.
God says: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’. Our finite minds will not always understand everything that he does or allows.
Nor can we assume that he owes us an explanation. If God could be totally understood he could not be properly worshipped.
Man was created morally perfect, but with the gift of free will. As long as he lived in obedience to his Creator he enjoyed a blissful life in a perfect world. But eventually his disobedience led to disaster. Read about it in the Bible in Genesis chapter 3.
Man’s relationship with God was broken, his nature became corrupt, his personality was wrecked, his personal relationships were poisoned, and he became subject to disease and death. What is more, the whole natural world was wrenched out of sync.
The ultimate cause of the New York massacre (and of all other pain and suffering in the world) is man’s original disobedience. The Bible’s word for disobedience to God is ‘sin’.
We have all inherited our first parents’ sinful nature and are constantly contributing to the world’s sin and suffering.
Our planet produces more than enough food to feed all six billion of us, but millions die of hunger every year because of human corruption, greed and mismanagement.
A great deal of human misery is self-inflicted: heavy smokers are crippled by lung cancer or heart disease; heavy drinkers die of cirrhosis of the liver; AIDS is destroying millions who indulge in indiscriminate sex; and countless people suffer serious illness as a direct result of suppressed anger, hatred, bitterness and envy.
Can we blame God for our own behaviour?
Of course, man is not directly to blame for truly natural disasters. But even these events are the result of the fallen condition of the natural world. And that, in turn, is the consequence of God’s judgement on man’s original disobedience.
God is not an idle onlooker while mankind writhes in agony. In an act of amazing love he has identified himself with our trauma and has intervened personally, coming into the world in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
At indescribable cost, he came to bring our trauma to an end, to punish evil and eventually destroy it altogether.
He did this first by living a perfect, sinless life. Then he willingly allowed himself to be crucified to bear in his own body and spirit the death penalty that God said must be paid for sin.
But on the third day he rose again from the dead, demonstrating that he had conquered sin and death. He is alive today and offers the forgiveness of sin to all who turn to him, trust him as their Saviour, and submit to him as the rightful Lord of their lives.
The Bible tells us that one day there will be a final, eternal and satisfying outcome to the problem of evil and suffering. This will be when God brings the present world order to an end and replaces it with ‘a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’. This is where those who have put their trust in Christ will live eternally in his sinless, painless, deathless, glorious presence.
When Jesus spoke about eighteen people who had been crushed to death when a tower had fallen in Jerusalem, he asked a question and gave a warning: ‘Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’.
What happened in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 should not leave us arguing about what God could, might or should have done to prevent it.
Instead, you should think carefully about the brevity of life, the certainty of death and judgement, and the need to get right with God.
But then think also about the amazing love he has shown in ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. It is this that makes such reconciliation possible.