SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

September 11, 2001 is a date that now sadly joins December 7, 1941 (the day of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan which plunged America into World War II) as a "day that will live in infamy."

We now know that on that fateful morning at the start of the work day, at least 19 Muslim extremists hijacked four U.S. commercial jetliners and plunged them into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. These crashes reduced these fixtures of New York City's skyline to rubble. Hijackers then crashed a third jet into the Pentagon near Washington D.C. A fourth hijacked plane, also diverted toward Washington, after a struggle between hijackers and determined passengers, crashed in Western Pennsylvania. The death toll, including those killed in the four hijacked aircraft currently stands at almost 7000, far outdistancing the 2400 killed nearly 60 years in the Pearl Harbor attack. This attack is the worst attack on civilians in U.S. history.

In light of such catastrophic events, the question often asked is, "Why?" If God exists (and according to the Bible He does - Genesis 1:1), and if He is sovereign and in control of all things (and according to the Bible He is - Ephesians 1:11; Psalm 115:3; 103:19), why does He allow such events as these to take place? WHY?

This was a question that troubled the old Hebrew prophet Habakkuk, who lived and worked in the final days of the nation of Judah. This was just before the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar first invaded and took prisoners of war, including Daniel, to Babylon where they would languish for 70 years. Habakkuk lived to see increasing evil in Judah, apparently unpunished by God (Habakkuk 1:2-2:1). He couldn't understand the ways and workings of God. We hear him cry out to God, "How long?" (Habakkuk 1:2-11). In anguish, he also asks "WHY?" repeatedly (1:3,12-2:1).

Ah, the ways and workings of God, who can understand them? Indeed, from time to time we all struggle with and wonder at them. From the cross, even Jesus Christ cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). We as humans are always asking "Why?" It has always been so.

God Himself informs us why we struggle with and wonder at His ways and workings. That old Hebrew gentleman Isaiah, the prophet, quotes God as saying, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Because God's ways are beyond us, we ask "Why?" in our pain, confusion, and anguish.

I think of several Bible characters

  • David, after faithfully keeping his father's sheep, courageously defeating Goliath, loyally serving King Saul, and remaining humble with national fame, was permitted by God to be hunted and hounded by a jealous King Saul for 13 years (1 Samuel 22-23; 2 Samuel 5:4). Why? I don't know.
  • James and Peter were both imprisoned by wicked King Herod. James was executed, whereas Peter was miraculously delivered by angelic intervention (Acts 12:1-19). Why did one live and the other die? I don't know.
  • Some of God's good people listed in Hebrews 11 are named, others are not. One account reads, they "by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight". But the text goes on to say, "and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground" (Hebrews 11:33-38). Why did some experience great deliverance while others horrible suffering and death? I don't know.
  • Personally, I think of a dear missionary colleague with whom I worked in South America thirty-five years ago. Charlie was twice the missionary I would ever be. Charlie, however, was cut down by cancer at age 51; I have lived to see my sixties. Why did one live and the other die? I don't know.
  • When Habakkuk agonizingly asked "Why?", God simply responded by saying, "Habakkuk, you have got to trust Me." In the best known and most frequently quoted verse from the whole book of Habakkuk, God said, "the righteous will live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).

    To John the Baptizer, who was unjustly imprisoned and would soon die, Jesus Christ in essence said the same thing---"TRUST ME!" Jesus said this when John was questioning His methods and the way He was doing things (Luke 7:18-23). John thought Jesus, as the announced Messiah, should be leading a rebellion against the hated Roman Empire, whose Legions were presently occupying Israel. Instead, Jesus was preoccupied with "healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching the Gospel" (Luke 7:21-22). When John expressed his confusion and inability to understand, Jesus simply said, in effect, "trust Me, and happy is the man who does so" (Luke 7:23).

    Dr. Billy Graham, speaking eloquently at the Day of Prayer and Remembrance service in Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral, honoring the memory of those who died in the terrorist attack of September 11, reminded America of this essential need to trust God when what He permits breaks the heart and is almost impossible to understand. It is at this precise moment that our faith and trust in the God Who is "too wise to make a mistake and too deep to explain Himself" must assert itself.

    Why does God do what He does? Why does His allow what He does? I don't know. His ways and workings are beyond me. But I do know that He is good (Psalm 100:5), in complete control (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:35), does what pleases Him (Psalm 115:3), has a plan that is for our well-being, not our calamity (Jerermiah 29:11), loves us (John 3:16; 13:1b; Romans 5:18), and promises to take care of us (Isaiah 41:10). It is this God of the Bible Who invites us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). What He said to John the Baptizer, He says to us today---"Trust Me," and "happy is he who is not offended by Me" (Luke 7:23). The Psalmist was right when He wrote (interestingly, in the central verse of the entire Bible), "It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust (put confidence) in man; it is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes" (Psalm 118:8-9).

    Events like the horrendous atrocities that took place on September 11, in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Central Pennsylvania defy human explanation and leave us with all kinds of questions, especially the haunting "WHY?" questions. It is precisely at times like this we must do as God instructs---we must trust Him.

    It was the Apostle Paul who said, "Oh, the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For from Him and through him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:33, 36). The Psalmist added, "O Lord of hosts, how blessed (or happy) is the man who trusts (relies on, leans on, has confidence) in Thee!" (Psalm 84:12).

    That's it! Paul rested his case there. Indeed, if we could only see the WHO behind the scene (the One Who is love (1 John 4:8), the One Who is good (Nahum 1:7; 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 106:1; 107:1), the One Who, for reasons perhaps known only to Him, permitted and did not prevent the sad and tragic events of September 11). If we could only see Him, we would stop asking WHY?

    All other sounds are muffled when we dare to claim and trust His unfailing goodness, His undying love, His absolute sovereignty, and His total control of all things. Even the deafening sound of four crashing airliners.

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