Today’s blog is excerpted from a lengthy article “19 Reflections on America’s Crisis,” which I wrote in the days following 9/11. (While this was originally written to Americans in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, much of it will also apply to challenges related to present conflicts and natural disasters around the globe. Our prayers continue for our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ in these places, and many others.)
1. God is all-powerful, fully in control.
God was not caught by surprise on September 11, 2001. He “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Including those terrorist acts? Yes.
In well-meaning attempts to distance God from evil, some Christians have said things like “God didn’t want this to happen” and “God has nothing to do with terrorist acts.” True, He is not to blame for them, but if indeed He works all things after the counsel of His will, then obviously we can’t say He has “nothing to do” with them.
Scripture says, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all his children, Job doesn’t say, “God had nothing to do with it,” but “the LORD gave and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21).
Nations will rise and fall, terrible things may happen, but through it all, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).
2. Suffering in this world is normal; Americans, like everyone else, have no promise of ease or immunity.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Our hope should not be the illusion that we won’t suffer. Our hope should be that one day God will end our suffering (Revelation 21:4). Our hope should be in the fact that nothing in this world or outside it—no tragedies or accidents or terrorist attacks or anything else—shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
3. God knows what it’s like to suffer.
God has never dished out any suffering He hasn’t taken on Himself. As a man He suffered (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15-16). Jesus Christ took upon Himself all the sins and evil of the world (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, He underwent what was . qualitatively an eternity of suffering in a time span of six hours.
Why? Because He loves us. No act of terrorism can take that from us—nor can it undermine the certainty of eternal life in Christ for all who trust in Him (1 John 5:11-13).
Where was God September 11? Where He always is—exalted in the heavens, indwelling the hearts of His children, comforting the afflicted, stretching out His nail-scarred hands in the offer of a redemption that costs us nothing, but cost Him everything. Where was God? Right there in the dust and ruins of broken planes and buildings and bodies, somehow accomplishing a purpose that will bring Him glory (Isaiah 48:9-11).
4. God has brought much good out of these terrible events, and will continue to.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3). As much as we don’t want to go through it, suffering often builds our character and strengthens our faith.
Joseph said of his brothers who sold him into slavery, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). God is a master of turning evil on its head, and thwarting Satan’s intention by bringing about good.
If God can bring the single greatest good in human history, the redemption of mankind, out of the single most horrible event in human history, the crucifixion of Christ, then He can bring good out of everything. If God made what could be called “Horrific Friday” into what we call “Good Friday,” can’t He bring good out of other evils?
5. We should remind ourselves daily that this world, as it now is, is not our home.
That day as I sat in front of the television stunned, watching the towers fall to the ground, I prayed for the suffering people, then said aloud, “This world is not my home.”
In my church, five days later, we sang “God Bless America,” which is a good prayer. But at the end, when I sang “My home, sweet home,” there was an asterisk in my heart next to the word “home.”
The Carpenter from Nazareth, my bridegroom and a builder by trade, has gone to prepare a home for me. One day I will live on a redeemed planet Scripture calls “The New Earth.” That will be my home. My ultimate home is not America. Every day I move closer to the day I’ll leave this world. If America were my true home, then every day of my life I’d be headed away from home. But because Heaven, where Jesus is, is my home, every day I’m not moving away from home, but toward it.
People of the world don’t need our reassurance that America is unshakable, that democracy will prevail, that our economy will recover, that death and suffering will not touch them, or that America or any country is a safe place to live. What they need, while living in the wreckage of this sin-stained earth, is to realize that the world’s main problem is that it’s inhabited by people like us, sinners in need of redemption. These thirsty people need us to reach out our hands and extend to them, as cold water, Christ’s offer of citizenship in another world, a coming eternal home described this way at the Book’s end:
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:3-5).