September 11, 2001, terror struck New York—and set millions of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, in search of a spiritual answer to the horror. Church attendance spiked (for a time); Bible passages were scoured for words of solace or hints of an explanation; a flood of articles and sermons addressed the age-old “problem of evil;” the religion of Islam suddenly became a topic of everyday conversation among American Christians who until that point had never had much cause to consider it.
Violence, terrorism, and murder were hardly new to the American (and human) experience, but the sheer perverse theatricality of the 9/11 attacks made it hard not to imagine that there wasn’t some kind of cosmic or spiritual message lurking behind them. Some Christians wondered if the terror strikes were a “wake-up” call to repentance, or even a divine punishment for sin.
The Biblical book of Psalms was quoted a lot in the months following 9/11—and it’s not hard to see why. Many of the psalms, particularly David’s cries to God for justice and security, are a perfect model of the Christian response to tragedy. See Psalm 27, where David asks God to deliver him from enemies: his ultimate hope and comfort is not in wartime victory or physical safety (although he may hope for those)… but in the goodness of God.
The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the LORD,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock. […]
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27, NIV)
The Bible contains many stories of injustice, tragedy, and suffering inflicted on God’s people. The afflicted people respond with all the emotions we would expect: anger, disbelief, fear, indignation, and even doubt in God’s sovereignty.
These are the same emotions that flood through our minds even today, years after the event, as we remember watching those twin towers fall. But time and time again, the Bible writers remind themselves—and us—that God is in control, and that our most important spiritual response to tragedy is to look to God’s endless love and incomprehensible faithfulness:
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning. (Lamentations 3:20-23, NLT)
To turn your face to God in the aftermath of tragedy is to defy the power of evil, and to place your hope in the one Person who can bring good out of even the most horrifying disaster. As you think back on the 9/11 attacks today and in the future, may your sorrow and mourning point you to the glorious hope of Jesus Christ, and the restoration he promises.