Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen
Ten years ago this Sunday our nation was thrust into one of the greatest crises and tragedies it ever faced- the infamous events of 9/11/01. Words will never describe the grief and heartache that hit so many on that terrible day. 9/11 changed so many things for all of us. As we look back at the scenes of planes flying into buildings, explosions and plumes of smoke, people wounded and covered in dust, and others desperately looking for their loved ones we ponder one of the oldest questions man has asked: If there is a God who is good and loving, why do things like this happen? 9/11 was a storm that shook us to the core and one we will never forget. How do we make sense of horrific storms such as 9/11 that hit our nation? Our lives? Our families?
All of us have experienced storms in life, and not just the ones that have wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. We have experienced the storms of death, sickness, pain, loneliness, hopelessness, and temptation. We have been assaulted by family troubles, troubles at work, troubles in our marriage, troubles with friends, and troubles with our finances. We have all experienced great disappointment, heartache, and loss. And some of these storms, at least to us, seem like they will wipe us out. Like the disciples in the boat during the storm we cry out, “We are perishing!”
Some storms we experience in life are the result of the fact that we live in a world that is fallen and under the curse of sin. Bad things happen in this world because, let’s face it, as sinners we are bad people. What comes natural to us is violence, lust, lying and greed. As a result we see a lot of bad things in the world. The headlines are full of examples that show our proclivity to sin. Sometimes we get caught up in the middle of those bad things. A storm comes our way and we did nothing wrong- nothing to deserve it. It just happens. Why? That’s a tough question that I don’t think we’ll ever be really able to answer. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God stop it? Can God stop it? We could philosophize and theologize all day on this topic. A brief blog post does it absolutely no justice, but understand just a few things:
One, not everything that happens in the world is God’s will. I sat with a family enduring the pain of a loved one committing suicide. One of the people in the room looked at the grieving family and said, “Well, you know this was God’s will.” No, I don’t think it was. It’s not God’s will for a child to be abducted. It’s not God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings. Can God bring about positive things from tragedy? Absolutely! But recall that this world and the people God first created were perfect. Yet, we were the ones to mess it up. Let’s be careful about blaming God for bad things that happen.
Two, could God stop all of the evil in the world? Yes, but if he did, what would the evidence be that we are all sinners. Furthermore, God could stop every murderer and terrorist but he would have to deny them their free will. And if he did that for them he would have to do that for us. Bad things happen because people choose to use their free will to follow their sinful indulgences. Free will is a beautiful gift from God, but because of our sin we have turned it into a terrible curse as well.
Three, the fact that evil things happen does not undermine the fact that God is good, loves you, and is all-powerful. Why does God allow what he does? We’re never going to fully know. We just need to know that in all things he is present in the storm and desires for us to trust him to help us through it.
Why didn’t God stop those planes on 9/11? We’re not going to know. But in times of tragedy, we should focus on what we do know about God rather than what we do not know about Him. I do know he is all-powerful and all-knowing. I do know He loves me so much He sent His Son to die for me. And there’s one more thing I know for sure: I’m not God. My wife and I were thrilled beyond description when she became pregnant for the first time. We started planning and focusing on the arrival of the baby. But then her pregnancy ended in miscarriage. We were crushed. I will never forget sitting in the office of her doctor, a kind and older Christian gentleman, as he struggled with something to say to try and comfort us. I was surprised when he broke the silence by saying, “Have you ever seen the movie Rudy?” What did that football movie have to do with my grief over losing the baby? He continued, “Remember that scene when Rudy is talking to the priest after he was denied entrance to Notre Dame?” I nodded through my tears. “And do you remember what the priest said to Rudy? He said, ‘Rudy, there are two things that are certain in this world: One, there is a God. Two, I’m not Him.’”
I must admit at the moment I found little comfort in the doctor’s words. However, as I look back, it’s good advice in the midst of tragedy. None of us are remotely close to being God. We will never know fully why He does what He does. He truly sees from a perspective that we will never possess. What’s left is for me to trust Him, regardless of the pain, knowing that God loves me and weeps with me and will one day make all things new for those who love Him.