Many Christians are speaking this way about the murderous destruction of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. God did not cause it, but he can use it for good. There are two reasons I do not say this. One is that it goes beyond, and is contrary to, what the Bible teaches. The other is that it undermines the very hope it wants to offer.
First, this statement goes beyond and against the Bible. For some, all they want to say, in denying that God “caused” the calamity, is that God is not a sinner and that God does not remove human accountability and that God is compassionate. That is true—and precious beyond words. But for others, and for most people who hear this slogan, something far more is implied. Namely, God, by his very nature, cannot or would not act to bring about such a calamity. This view of God is what contradicts the Bible and undercuts hope.
How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
This “all things” includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).
From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure—God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son’s house, Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).
Oh, yes, Satan is real and active and involved in this world of woe! In fact Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” Satan struck him. But Job did not get comfort from looking at secondary causes. He got comfort from looking at the ultimate cause. “Shall we not accept adversity from God?” And the author of the book agrees with Job when he says that Job’s brothers and sisters “consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11). Then James underlines God’s purposeful goodness in Job’s misery: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11). Job himself concludes in prayer: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Yes, Satan is real, and he is terrible—and he is on a leash.
The other reason I don’t say, “God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good,” is that it undercuts the very hope it wants to create. I ask those who say this: “If you deny that God could have ‘used’ a million prior events to save 5,000 people from this great evil, what hope then do you have that God could now ‘use’ this terrible event to save you in the hour of trial?” We say we believe he can use these events for good, but we deny that he could use the events of the past to hold back the evil of September 11. But the Bible teaches he could have restrained this evil (Genesis 20:6). “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). But it was not in his plan to do it. Let us beware. We spare God the burden of his sovereignty and lose our only hope.
All of us are sinners. We deserve to perish. Every breath we take is an undeserved gift. We have one great hope: that Jesus Christ died to obtain pardon and righteousness for us (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and that God will employ his all-conquering, sovereign grace to preserve us for our inheritance (Jeremiah 32:40). We surrender this hope if we sacrifice this sovereignty.