Zephaniah (1:16): “A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities and against the high towers…
(3:18): I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who belong to you, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.”
Where was God on September 11th? I’m sure that question is familiar to you all; but are all questions legitimate? For that matter, are all questions even questions? I have read and listened to many answers to that question; most by professing Christians, most come to the same conclusions; but I would like to offer a variant take. What if God answered that question, not some youth Pastor or radio personality, or grief counselor but God himself? Before you declare blasphemy and walk out, hear me out because God has actually answered that question, you just may not have heard his answer but I guarantee you its vastly different than the answer that you may be used to.
Now Socrates taught that only a fool would begin a dialogue without defining one’s terms so the first question we must settle is WHICH GOD? If you’re talking about Allah, the god of Islam, then the question, all assumptions considered kind of falls apart. I know there are those who have condemned the violence and the majority of Muslims say that they themselves would never do what those hi-jackers did, but it’s also a majority of Muslims that say a suicide bomber is justified in taking innocent human life if it is in the cause of Allah, and the Holy Quran that says Slay the infidel where you find him, lie in wait for him and don’t take Christians or Jews as friends. The answer to where Allah was on 9/11 lies somewhere between bursting with pride at justice enacted or preparing 19 harems of 72 perpetual virgins.
Or are we talking about the god of Oprah, the god of forces, the law of intention? This is even darker because this god says that people who suffer bring the suffering on themselves by ‘stinking thinking’, the fat person obsesses about not eating and the universe brings him a desire for food, the person drowning in debt can only think of his finances and sinks further into the mire; so somehow, on the same day all those people in the Pentagon, the Trade Center buildings, on those planes must have been obsessing about terror … and the universe obliged them. In the east there’s a slightly older variation to this, the Hindu calls it Karma. The truth is that the vast majority of the time that the question Where was God is asked; it’s posed of the God of the Bible; not L. Ron Hubbard, Buddha, Shiva or Zeus. It’s one of the curious things about the atheist as well, that the greater part of his time and money is spent debunking the God of the Bible, as well; a subject for another time.
So ‘Where was God on 9/11?’ Before I share God’s answer with you; let’s actually ask the question: Is the question ‘Where was God on 9/11’ a legitimate question? First of all, is it really a question of where, I mean it’s not like someone is waiting for you to answer with a latitude and longitude as to the whereabouts of the Most High with a GPS coordinate. Nor really is the date important; because if you didn’t know where God was on 9/10 or on 9/12 then 9/11 becomes irrelevant. Somewhere everyday a monstrous event occurs and people ask the question where was God. Where was God when my 3 year old was run over by a truck, where was he when a village in the Sudan was burned to the ground, the men killed for rejecting Islam, the women raped, and the children sold into slavery. You see the question really isn’t a Where or a When question …Is it possible that it’s a why question?
Jim Denison in his column this week writes:
For some, 9/11 proves that the God of Scripture is a myth. Sam Harris, the atheist and bestselling author, claims that the existence of a single suffering child anywhere in the universe calls into question the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God. How much more the murder of 2,977 innocent civilians — more than died at Pearl Harbor or D-Day. Where was God while 19 jihadists committed the worst act of terrorism in our nation’s history?
Isn’t it really asking why didn’t God do something on 9/11; why didn’t he stop evil? How could he allow that to take place? If God is all loving and if He is all-powerful then he would have motive to act and capacity to act … so then where was he? Now we’re getting somewhere. You see, it’s not a where question at all, and when, is a technicality but the more you dig the more you realize that it’s not a question at all; it’s an indictment. God was AWOL. Absent without Leave. If I were God I would have stopped 9/11 from happening, I would have scooped the 3 year old out of the street, I would have saved those innocent Sudanese, I would … I would … I would be more compassionate than God.
If you peel back the onion then you see the real nature of the question and we’ve all heard it in a lesser degree and a slightly different form but every child that has been late to Saturday chores has been the recipient of the icy parental stare and the ‘well, where have you been, young man?’ Nice that you can finally make it, Mr. Helper.” “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?’
I have a question for you, “is that any way to talk to the Almighty God?’
Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said, Shall he that contends with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproves God, let him answer it. (Job 40:1-2)
The truth is that not every question is a legitimate question and God is not your effeminate Humanities teacher doing his best Stuart Smalley imitation and saying ‘now there really are no dumb questions.’ There are dumb questions and irreverent, illegitimate, illogical questions. There are questions that God does not like and he’s not shy about saying so, so why do we Christians feel compelled to insert our own defensive, ambiguous apology for God? And why do we offer it like the excuse we gave to our neighbor when the husband didn’t show up to their barbeque; we didn’t want to say that the husband really doesn’t like them and he’s watching Notre Dame at Michigan so we offer up some half-hearted, half-believed, white-lie to save face. Why do we presume that God needs an alibi?
What has been the default answer coming from those who portend to speak for God? It’s found in books like When Bad Things Happen to Good People and Where Is God When It Hurts?
An examination of these books alongside God’s answer to Job and his rebuke of the clay questioning the motives of the Potter in Isaiah and Romans suggest that the default answer is the worthless counsel of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar over the alarming rebuke of Elihu. Christianity Today published an article by one of Christianity’s leading authors just one month after 9/11. In a 10 page article based on the thoughts from his book Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey attempts to answer ‘where was God on 9/11’:
“I guess the answer to that question is another question. Where is the church when it hurts? If the church is doing its job—binding wounds, comforting the grieving, offering food to the hungry—I don’t think people will wonder so much where God is when it hurts. They’ll know where God is: in the presence of his people on earth.”
Philip Yancey spends 9 pages dodging the question, reliving the day, injecting his opinion about peoples’ motives, even admitting that he’s embarrassed to travel as an American sometimes and then gives the answer to where God is on 9/12 but that wasn’t the question, nor was it the answer God would give.
And if the answer is dependent on the Church then a mere glimpse of church history and it’s failings would lead one to believe that God’s integrity depends on finite failures, many who have taken his name in vain, and some who have themselves carried out monstrous acts in his name. Yancey seems to be at odds with the Christian philosopher who said ‘to view true Christianity one must nearly ignore all Christians.’
It seems that modern Christianity prefers a Johnny Appleseed Jesus to the thrice Holy God that speaks from the tornado – Burl Ives, putting you up on his knee and saying “well junior, let me give you my excuse for where I was on that day that you thought you needed me more than any other day. Here is my excused absence slip for missing your tragedy, could you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Uttering Platitudes that aren’t sufficient to heal a scraped knee let alone a broken heart is not the measure of an all loving God but of the weakness of his people to answer the bleeding questions.
When Job and the three stooges ask God, Where have you been, the Holy Spirit moves Elihu to gently rebuke their folly, when they don’t listen to Elihu, God himself thunders back from a tornado not a comfy chair:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you answer me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding. (Job 38:1-4)
God says that to a man estranged from his wife and plagued by physical disorders and worthless comforters; God says that to a man who lost all his children in a terrible tragedy not so different than the collapse of our towers.
So where was God on 9/11? How do you answer the scornful or for that matter, the broken? My grace is sufficient for thee. God is his own best spokesman and when man is the faithful servant it’s because he has gotten out of the way and allowed the Holy Spirit to work through him. There are moments of grief too strong for words and the other 4 love languages speak volumes more than well-meant words: just being there, doing something – Bob Appleby standing for two hours in the rain not doing a thing changed the world that day for a Secret Service agent and his son, and there is no greater gift a person can give or receive than the love, hope and redemption that is found in the offer of Jesus Christ. A personal touch, forbearing with the doubt, confusion and abject grief of another; but there is a time … a time that God speaks from the whirlwind. You’ll know when it comes, you can gauge it in the integrity of the question, or I should say the indictment; answering a grieving widow or an orphan is different than answering a snarky reporter. The answer remains the same; the tone of that answer may vary.
Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. (Job 32:2-3)
But we’ve been taught to offer pabulum to a deaf, hurting world. A hallmark card does not answer the screams of an open grave or an open heart. Yet, here is a letter that made the rounds after 9/11; from one of those well-meaning souls who thought they’d do God a favor by fabricating an alibi for him; it reads:
|Have you ever thought, “Where was God on 9/11 when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked?” Well, I know where my God was on the morning of September 11, 2001, and He was very busy!He was discouraging people from taking those four flights. Together they could accommodate more than 1,000 passengers, yet there were only 266 aboard. He was on those four flights giving the terrified passengers the ability to stay calm. Not one of the people who was called by a loved one on one of the hijacked planes mentioned that passengers were panicked, nor was there any screaming in the background. And on one of the flights, God gave strength to the passengers to overcome the hijackers.
God was also busy creating obstacles to prevent people who worked in the WTC from getting to work on time. The work day had begun, more than 50,000 people worked in the two towers, yet only 20,000 were at their desks. On that beautiful morning, God created scores of unexpected traffic delays, subway delays, and commuter train delays. A PATH train packed with commuters was stopped at a signal just short of the WTC and was able to return to Jersey City. And far more meetings were scheduled elsewhere than was usual.
God held up each of the two mighty towers for a half hour so that the people on the lower floors could get out. And when He finally let go, He caused the towers to fall inward rather than to topple over, which would have killed so many more people. The foundations of six surrounding buildings were demolished by the fall of the towers, but God held them up for many hours until all the occupants were safely evacuated.
And when the WTC and Pentagon buildings went down, my God picked up almost 3,500 of His children and carried them to their home for all eternity. He also sat down and cried that 19 of His children could have so much hate in their hearts, that they did not choose him, but another god that doesn’t exist, and now they are lost forever.
He sent people trained in dealing with earthly disasters to save those that were injured. And he sent in thousands of others to help in any way they were needed. And He brought people together across the world in a way that moved thousands to tears and hundreds of thousands to prayer—and caused millions to turn to the one true living God.
He still isn’t finished. Every day He comforts those who lost loved ones. He is encouraging others to reach out to those who don’t know Him or believe in Him. He is giving the leaders of our great nation the strength and conviction to do the right thing, to follow His will, not a popular poll.
So if anyone ever asks, “Where was your God on 9/11?” you can say, “He was everywhere! And, in fact, he is everywhere today and every day.” Without a doubt, this was the worst catastrophe most of us have ever seen. I can’t imagine getting through such a difficult time without God at my side. Without God, life would be hopeless.
Some More Thoughts …
As you might know, the head of one company survived 9/11 because he took his son to kindergarten.
Another fellow is alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.
Another lady was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off on time.
One was late as a result of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.
One more survivor missed his bus.
One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.
One’s car wouldn’t start.
One went back to answer the telephone.
One had a child that dawdled and didn’t get ready as soon as he should have.
One couldn’t get a taxi.
The one that struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning, went to work by his usual way but before he got there, he developed a blister on his foot, so he stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. That is why he is alive today.
Imagine that, not being able to get a cab in New York or a child that made you late for work; of course, none of those things happened on 9/10 or any other day.
So this is the all-powerful God? He was there in the finite way that you perceive … tripping people, making them miss their cab; spilling coffee on clothes, having them get stuck in traffic; you know like God is that mischievous Gremlin on the Twilight Zone with William Shatner, only in a good way. And He couldn’t hold up the towers for another minute or so, until that firefighter 100 feet from the entrance could get out? I thought it was Atlas that shrugged; not the Omnipotent God of the Universe.
The truth is, if God made it so you wouldn’t be in a building or on a plane by making you lose your keys then isn’t He smart enough or clever enough to have the Terrorists spill their coffee or lose their keys?
And what about the people who weren’t supposed to be on a flight or in a tower and at the last minute circumstance dictated they were there; was God pulling those strings as well? This kind of wretched exegesis would force one to eventually have to answer the question, “why did your dad get the blister from the new shoes, and my dad did not?” Why was that day the one time all year that my mother had an appointment on the 86th floor?
The world hears this and finds little comfort, nothing but a lame excuse for a pretend God who acts more like the tooth fairy or Jimmy Stewart’s invisible rabbit then He does like the Sovereign of the Universe.
Whether we invite Him or not; He is there, He is God and will not be mocked but He also won’t force himself. In an incredible affront to the people of New York, their first responders, the honored dead, the grief-ridden survivors, the people of America and God himself; those in charge of this year’s memorial have decided to have God sit this one out. There will be no clergy at the Memorial; there is a Buddhist Nun, a Hindu and even a Muslim representative who were invited to speak at the National Cathedral … but no Evangelical Christian. They are even trying to remove the Cross from West Street as we speak. The clay has spoken to the potter and has said ‘what need have I for you.’
If we really want God to intervene to stop injustice; have you really thought that out; do you understand how Much God hates sin? If He intervenes, disregards the divine institution of man’s free will; and intervenes to stop the injustice … where does He stop … certainly we would all answer at our front door. Do you know why there were 12 legions of angels on call when Christ was crucified? It wasn’t to get him down from a cross and to overcome a dozen Roman soldiers, one of the Lord’s host wiped out 185,000 choice Assyrian Warriors in one night; those Angels were on call, in the case that Christ chose to express his Absolute Justice apart from Grace. And humanity, all of humanity would be judged in the doing. The ark would not set sail, perfect righteousness requires absolute justice and without the grace of God, the mercy of God to temper that Justice in the Death of Jesus Christ, all would be lost. Man chose evil and men carry out evil, yet the clay looks at the Potter and demands ‘where were you’ as if to imply that God by his alleged absence is complicit in the mass murder of 3,000 of our countrymen.
Denison continues, ‘Elie Wiesel’s books tell the story of the Holocaust through the prism of his personal suffering. No passage is more horrific than this account of a small boy hanged by the Nazis:’
“For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red; his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard [a] man asking: ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is — He is hanging here on this gallows.’”
Where was God on 9/11? The same place He was when the World crucified His son: On His throne. The day His own Son died, He was purchasing the redemption of mankind from the consequences of sin. Tasting death so that no man, should he choose life, would ever have to; forsaking the only man that was ever truly forsaken in all history so that you might have life. As Christ was the true object of Saul’s persecution, so too, the suffering of His people was His own.
He was inspiring courage in the fearful; He was comforting the sorrowful, He was welcoming Home his own – precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. And to the very last moment, the very last breath, He was reaching out to those who for a lifetime had rejected Him, even those whose last prayer was to a false God, believing in a false Peace. He was inspiring those who, based on this event would go into the pulpit, into the sick ward into the mission field and onto the battle-field. Blessed are the Peace-makers. He was reminding the world, so distracted by physical death – the separation of the body from the soul that the real enemy and not the shadow is spiritual death – the separation of the soul from the Grace of God.
My brother wrote to me recently about the passing of our mother; I share his sentiment with all of you who have lost someone dear and with those who seek to comfort the grieving:
Regarding mom: I only think of her in the context of being in the presence of Christ and completely immersed in His eternal and perfect love. She’s worshipping Him and He is loving her. She never had it so good. Every nano-second of time, she is perfectly loved, content, safe, joyous and thrilled beyond our capability to comprehend, besides having a restored and perfect spiritual “body.”
Where was God on 9/11? Where is He now?
He calls you this moment, right now, in the privacy of your own mind He asks you to take his hand to reach out and grasp so great salvation, to assent to the Father, that in your need of a Savior, you are trusting in the shed blood of the Lamb of God for your personal redemption. In that moment, you are alive, you have eternal life and you will start living the life abundant for the sake of Christ and for the pleasure of God. You’ve made news in heaven today friend. You are His son and my brother. Welcome home.