There is no doubt that the terrorist attack last week will be recorded as one of history’s momentous events.
In the 20th century, there have been a number of different tragic events that have seared themselves into the minds and memories of people and their children.
The sinking of the Titanic;
the destruction of the Hindenberg;
the attack on Pearl Harbour;
the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki;
the assassination of President John F Kennedy.
To this sad list we can now add the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, and upon the Pentagon in Washington.
It is the scale of the disaster that affects us the most.
No pictures of the Titanic survived, but we have all seen the Hindenberg exploding,
the burning ships in Pearl Harbour,
the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima
and the shot that killed Kennedy.
No one knows how many people have died in New York,
but given the 50,000 people who worked in the two towers,
it is possible that the death toll could reach beyond 20,000.
To give you some information for comparison, nearly 80,000 died at Hiroshima.
The images will be with us forever.
The smoke, the flames,
the Boeing jet crashing into the tower,
the people trapped in the upper floors, many deciding to jump to their deaths,
and then the final, terrible collapse of two of the world’s tallest buildings.
The world will no longer be the same,
it is as though the final vestiges of the 20th century is like the dust covering the streets of lower Manhattan.
But disasters have always been with us.
800,000 died in April 1994 in a civil war in Rwanda.
Possibly 650,000 died in an Earthquake in China in 1976.
Over 21 million died in the Influenza outbreak in 1918.
Some 20 Million died of famine in China between 1959 and 1961.
And historians estimate some 20 Million died of the Black Death in the mid-14th century,
a quarter of Europe’s total population at the time.
Please don’t think that I’m somehow trivializing the events last week by quoting you these figures.
All I am saying is that human history is full of tragic events
- of death, destruction, pain, anguish and sorrow.
Yet here we are in Church.
We have come here today to worship God and listen to what he has said in his word.
But no reasonable Christian should ignore the issue of death, suffering and evil in the world.
God does give us comfort, and he does give us answers.
But they are not always the answers we like to hear.
Like everyone who believes in God, we are faced with the problem of how we can believe in an all-powerful God
- a God who oversees history
- and yet reconcile that with the tragedy we witnessed last week.
When I sat down to prepare this week’s sermon, I realised that our journey through 1 John would need a break given the events that transpired in New York and Washington.
I started to write down a number of questions that people would naturally ask
- these questions are on your handout, and I’ll be looking at each of them in turn this morning.
These questions are:
1. How can God allow Suffering?
2. Is God in control?
3. Why does evil prevail?
4. Where does forgiveness fit in?
5. What should I feel?
6. What can I do?
Naturally our time this morning is limited.
Each of these 6 different questions could take up an entire sermon,
so please bear with me as I give only a brief overview of each one.
I’ve decided to approach it this way in order to cover all the questions that last week’s attack would have raised in people.
But you’ll also see that as we examine each one of these questions, a picture will emerge of how we can cope with the tragedy of our world.
I have to say before I begin examining these questions that I have yet to see any close relative die.
I do not know what bereavement feels like
- I have not lost a mother or father, or wife or child.
But I know that one day my parents will die, and that I will outlive some of my close friends.
I have not witnessed a tragic accident, nor have I endured the pain of war.
In many ways, my generation has little or no idea of what it is like to live in desperate times.
So while I come to you today inexperienced in matters of grief, I am confident that God will use his word to comfort us all.
I am not preaching from any particular passage, so please have your Bibles ready as we flip between different passages.
1. How Can God Allow Suffering?
The first point in your outlines is “How can God allow suffering?”
Suffering is part of the human experience.
No one here has gone through life without suffering.
So why does God allow us to suffer?
Why does allow people to suffer and die?
If God is all powerful, why didn’t he stop the jets before they hit the tower?
Many people have used this thinking to deny that God exists.
The fact that God does not stop evil means he is not all-powerful.
And since God claims to be all-powerful, the logical step to make is to deny God’s existence.
Let me read to you from Genesis 3.17-19
To Adam, God said “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘you must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”This passage tells us a couple of important things.
The first is that when God cursed Adam, he cursed his life on earth and doomed it to suffering.
Because of sin, Adam’s life was no longer to be the idyllic paradise of Eden, but the hard labour of raising crops to stay alive.
Because Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule, God cursed their life on earth to be one of hardship and suffering.
The second important thing is that sin brings us mortality.
God tells Adam that at the end of his life he will “return to the ground”.
Sin not only brings us pain and suffering, it also brings death.
The last time I was here I explained sin to be the rejection of God as ruler of our lives.
Because we have all rejected God as our ruler, we suffer the natural consequences
- we undergo hardship, we suffer and we die.
Suffering is an integral part of being human because we have rejected God as our ruler.
The curse is a universal curse, no one is exempt from it.
Some people believe that particular sins result in particular punishments from God.
Now this is partially true, but it can’t be applied in all circumstances.
If I go out and murder someone, and the police track me down and find me, then my punishment - life in gaol - is a direct result of my sin.
But this can’t be applied consistently throughout.
If I hate someone, will God make me have a car accident?
If I cheat someone, will God let someone cheat on me?
You can’t make that link - nowhere in scripture does it say that.
There is no doubt that there are people who are hateful, greedy liars who live rich and happy lives,
while there are honest, sincere and loving people who undergo hardship after hardship.
The fact is that our suffering is universal in its scope, but biased when it is meted out.
Those people who died last week in New York were not somehow more evil than we are.
Some of them undoubtedly were greedy and immoral people,
but some were undoubtedly honest, sincere and loving as well.
God allows suffering because it is the natural effect of sin upon our world.
We bring it on ourselves, even though it is indiscriminate in who is chooses.
2. Is God in Control?
But the second point on your outlines is also important here - Is God in control of our world?
There are some people who see God like an absent watchmaker
- he has created the world to run automatically while he is distant and aloof from it.
That’s not the way the Bible sees it.
Jesus in Matthew 10.29 says
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.And Daniel 2.21 says about God
He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.So what we have here is a God who is not only interested in human history, but who is in control of it.
When Jesus in Matthew says that no sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father, he is using an understatement here.
Sparrows are not very important
- they are the equivalent to about 5 cents in this passage
- but these very unimportant things cannot exist outside God’s will.
Jesus is saying here that even if the unimportant things can’t exist outside of God’s will, neither do the important things.
So what we’re left with here is the realisation that nothing happens in history outside God’s kingly oversight.
God knew from the beginning of time that we’d be here this morning in Redhead.
He not only knew it, he made it happen.
The only reason why we are meeting here this morning is that God has ordained it to happen.
Now of course anyone who is confronted with this teaching therefore has to reconcile it with what has happened last week.
If God ordained these events to take place, then surely he is a terrible, uncaring God.
He is a God who has it within his power to stop these events from occuring,
yet he does nothing about it.
People who are confronted with this situation have one of three paths to take.
The first is easy - God cannot exist.
The second is similar - God exists but has no power over history.
Both of these paths are false.
The third path is to realise that God is in control of history, and that we need to look a little bit deeper into the issue to find out what God has done.
We need to remember that God’s sovereign actions never mean that a person’s actions are somehow excusable.
I remember as a young Christian trying to come to terms with Judas.
For a while I believed that Judas was actually in heaven
- after all, he was only doing God’s will in betraying Jesus and ensuring that he died for our sins.
This is partly true, but Judas acted out of his own evil desires and thoughts.
He acted on his own initiative, even though it was within God’s will.
Judas paid the price for his betrayal of Jesus.
So when we look at the events last week,
we need to remember that those who planned and participated in it were acting out of their own sinful nature.
They are to blame for it.
God is not to blame, even though he ordained the event to occur.
I know that is hard to comprehend, but as I have said, all these different questions will build upon each other and give a broad picture of what is going on.
3. Why does evil Prevail?
The third question on your outlines is “Why does evil prevail?”.
This is a natural question, and it has been asked many times in the Bible.
Let me read to you from Psalm 22.1-2:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night and am not silent.Last week’s events remind us that our world is an evil place.
There is no doubt that the deaths of so many people was an evil event.
For all the good that happens in our world, we are always reminded that evil is around and active.
So when we as Christians believe in a good God who is all-powerful, we can naturally begin to wonder why it is that evil always seems to be winning.
Let’s be clear about one thing - sin is universal.
The bible says that everyone is sinful.
This is not talking about the actual acts of sin as it is about the extent of sin’s influence.
Those terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Centre were undoubtedly more sinful than any of us,
but sin lives in the hearts of all people.
Because of sin, our world is an evil place.
We are incapable of living holy and godly lives because we have all rejected God as ruler.
Evil is prevalent in our world because we are evil.
There are certainly extents of evil behaviour, but we are all evil - we are all sinful.
So while the psalmist in Psalm 22 cries out to God, he recognizes that God will act against evil.
In verse 24 he says
He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.We need to understand that God is a just God who hates all evil.
He promises judgement upon all evil
- but he will not act until he chooses to act.
The Old Testament prophets write about an event called “The day of the Lord”.
On this day, God will save his people and bring all evil into judgement.
There are actually two days of the Lord.
One day has already been, one day is yet to come.
The day that has already been is the day in which Jesus was resurrected - by defeating death, Jesus acts to defeat evil.
The natural result of evil and sin is death - by rising from the dead, Jesus defeats death and evil.
On this day, Jesus brings life and saves his people.
The second day of the Lord
- the day which is yet to come
- is the day in which Jesus returns.
On this day, he will take his people into his kingdom,
and he will destroy evil in the fires of hell.
We need to remember then, that God has set a day of judgement in the future.
We may rail against all evil and injustice now,
but we need to realise that God will judge in his own time.
God is a just judge, and justice will prevail - not evil.
4. Where does forgiveness fit in?
Which brings us onto our next question - where does forgiveness fit in?
Throughout this whole episode,
you’ll notice that most people are concerned with justice and retribution.
Is Osama Bin Laden responsible?
If so, how should we bring him to justice?
I have yet to see any discussion on the subject of forgiveness.
You may remember in the early 1980s when Pope John Paul II was shot.
It was soon after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan,
and both Reagan and the Pope survived their ordeal.
But then the Pope did something that caused a great deal of consternation the world over.
After his recovery in hospital, he went to gaol and visited the man who attempted to assassinate him.
With the world press with him, he spoke to the man and forgave him.
While I do not agree with the Pope or what he teaches, he did force people to rethink their attitudes.
Where is forgiveness in New York at this moment?
Is there any desire on the part of America, both as a nation and as a group of individuals, to forgive?
Is there any desire on our part to forgive as well?
We need to remember that according to God, we have all rejected him as ruler.
Instead of flying a plane into a building, we did something worse.
Collectively, all of us participated in the crucifixion of Jesus.
We may not have handled the controls of a plane,
but collectively we have all picked up the hammer and nailed Jesus onto the cross.
And God, like us, is angry.
He wants justice.
He knows what we have done.
We know the might and power of the United States armed forces
- we know that they can obliterate any enemy they choose to attack.
But that power is nothing compared to the might and power of an angry God.
But he also loves us.
Not only that, but he is willing to forgive us.
What a strange God he is - that he can be so angry and concerned with justice, but so willing to love and forgive.
If he so choses, God can unleash his power of destruction and annihilate our world in an instant.
That he does not is testimony to his grace.
I spoke before about keeping things in perspective.
That the thousands who died in New York are nowhere near as tragic as those who have died in other historical events.
I also spoke of the fact that the image of the jet plane hitting the towers and the collapse of the towers as searing themselves into our collective memory.
But let’s keep things really in perspective.
The most tragic event in the history of mankind was not the holocaust.
It was not the black plague or influenza.
It was not the world wars or the the cultural revolutions under Mao and Stalin.
It was not the 11th of September 2001.
The most tragic event in our history was when God sent his son to us, and we murdered him.
And when you lie in bed at night with the image of the jet plane hitting the second tower of the World Trade Centre,
remember that that image is nothing compared to the son of God, lying dead on the cross,
tortured and murdered by our own collective hands.
Yet paradoxically, this moment of man’s absolute and depraved rejection of God as ruler,
is the same moment that God acts in grace and forgiveness.
Jesus’ death as a sin sacrifice ensured that the just punishment for our sins fell upon Jesus, thus enabling God to be both loving and just,
to be forgiving, yet exacting appropriate retribution.
And it is the extent of this forgiveness that is astounding.
We feel it is unfair, but even Osama Bin Laden can be forgiven for his sins.
But forgiveness is not about fairness, it’s about love and grace.
No one deserves God’s love or grace
- if they were deserved, it would no longer be grace.
5. What should I feel?
So what should we be feeling?
That is the subject of question 5.
Whenever we see pain or evil or injustice in our world today, it is right and appropriate for us to feel angry, to feel sorrow and to feel pain.
Why? Because we reflect the mind of God.
We can only imagine how horrific last weeks events were for those who suffered and died, but only God knows each person’s story.
What went through the minds of those airline passengers just before they hit the tower?
What events led up to people choosing to leap to their deaths?
Only God knows, and he mourns like we do at the evil and injustice of it all.
Anger is appropriate because we know that what has happened is unjust.
God is not impressed with uncontrollable anger
- anger that acts before thinking
- but it is right and appropriate for us to feel anger at injustice.
Sorrow is also appropriate.
When I woke up on Wednesday morning to the tragic news I could not contain my tears.
It is right and proper for us to feel sorrow for those who have suffered and died,
and for those who loved them.
These feelings are an indication to us that we understand God’s word more than just intellectually.
We know that what occurred was wrong and evil.
Anger and Sorrow are natural feelings for Christians to have.
6. What should I do?
That is how we should feel.
What about what we should do?
That is the subject of question 6.
The first thing we need to do is pray.
We need to pray for those families who have lost loved ones.
We need to pray that they not only find comfort in their sorrow, but that they find comfort in Christ.
We need to pray that God will lead them to turn to his word for comfort,
that God will provide godly, caring friends and relatives to show them the love of Christ.
We also need to pray for order in our world.
No government exists without God allowing it to be there,
and we need to pray that world governments work together to prevent anarchy and injustice,
and promote justice, peace and order.
We also need to be pray for the Islamic world.
Terrorism seems to be part and parcel of the Islamic world, which is unfortunate because the vast majority are not terrorists,
including may I say those who live in Australia.
We need to pray that God will work in their hearts that they turn to Christ and be saved.
So the first thing we need to do is pray.
The second thing we need to do is to trust that God is in control.
Regardless of how we feel, or what happens to us, God is in control.
We need to acknowledge that we cannot know the mind of God in all things,
but to realise that he loves us, and has provided an eternal home for us.
We need to remember that nothing can take us away from the love of God.
The final thing we should do is speak to others about our hope.
These events are still fresh in people’s minds, and they are naturally interested in what we believe as Christians.
We need to show them both our love for God’s justice as well as the forgiveness that has been granted to us.
In this time of uncertainty and pain, it is important for us to show others our trust in Christ and our confidence that God is in control.
Let me conclude.
Last week we witnessed an act of evil - there is no other word for it.
We were stunned by the audacity of the conspirators,
the scenes of horror in New York,
and the sorrow of the relatives as they walk the streets of their city,
desperately looking for their loved ones.
But we need to remember that the greatest horror of history did not occur last week,
but occurred nearly 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.
We need to remember that we ourselves have collectively crucified Christ in our rejection of God as ruler.
We need to remember that the events that unfolded last week were merely the natural results of a fallen world
- a world that has rejected God, and suffers pain and death as a result.
And we need to remember that despite the uncertainty of the future and the stability of the world we live in,
that as Christians our eternal destiny is secure
- that we will inherit a kingdom with no more pain, sorrow, tears or injustice.
Lord God, you are the God of all history. Nothing can match your power, and nothing happens that is outside your will. We look at the events in America last week, and we, like you, rail at the injustice of it all. We ask that you comfort the families of the dead, that they may turn to you in faith. We ask that you be with President George Bush and all the world leaders as they decide what to do. We ask that they do nothing out of revenge or wrong attitudes, but that they act to restore peace and order throughout the world. We pray that people throughout the world may turn to you in faith, and we pray for those who plan violence and pain, that you will show them mercy and love. We ask that Osama Bin Laden, whether he is reponsible or not for this disaster, that he may know and understand the gospel of salvation, and that he may turn to you in faith and repentance, and sin no more.
Give us comfort, Lord, to know that you have our eternal future planned for us, and give us the desire to share this hope with those who do not yet know.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.