So today we again collectively remembered the horrific events of six years ago, when madmen flew planes into the World Trade Center towers and another plane into the Pentagon. While it is most fitting to give solemn memorial to those who perished, both as innocent victims and as those who sacrificed themselves trying to rescue others, let's not miss this opportunity for repentance.
I cannot reflect on 9/11/01 without also thinking of Jesus' words in Luke 13:1-5. Some people put Jesus to the test over a horrific co-mingling of human blood with animal sacrifices. Their unasked question(s) would seem to echo our questions over 9/11 - Why this tragedy? Who's to blame? What will God do with the culprits as well as the innocent victims? And notice how Jesus deftly sidesteps those knotty (& naughty) questions: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3). And then Jesus adds His own horrific event to drive home His point: what about a tower that fell and killed a bunch of people? (Nothing new under the sun, right?) Again, Jesus sidesteps the issues of blame and who's worse vs who's better. Again He says, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:5).
What are we to make of this kind of response to horrific situations? Indeed, what are we to make of such a response as we properly remember and never forget 9/11? As we reflect on the towers that came tumbling down six years ago, and as we give fitting tribute to those who lost their lives, and even as we thank God for those who did survive, we can also live in repentance and faith in the God of mercy and might. Not only do we reflect on the horrific tragedy and the human heroism of 9/11/01, but we also realize how deeply flawed and frail, how fickle and fleeting our fallen world is. Yes, times like 9/11/01 and our anniversary remembrances remind us that without our mighty God of grace and mercy, without the God who reveals Himself ultimately and most profoundly in the death of His Son Christ Jesus on the cross, all of life would be a never-ending 9/11.
No, this is not to place any blame, nor is it to say that those who perished as innocent victims somehow deserved what they got for some specific, unnamed sins. Not at all! Rather, it is to say that such tragedies, as with any event in life, are calls to repent of our own sinfulness, our own self-centeredness, and our own rebellion against our Creator and Redeemer. They are calls to rely on His fatherly goodness and mercy. They are calls to trust that even though we do not and cannot understand why He governs the world in these ways, or why He allows such things to happen at all, He will not forsake or abandon us!
Yes, our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, and He does rule over His world (though at times we human subjects may not understand what He's up to!). Yes, our God has shown Himself to be not only almighty but also all merciful. And, yes, this same God has promised: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). As the book of Hebrews continues: "So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Heb. 13:6; see also Ps. 118:6; Ps. 27:1).
Sometimes faith struggles to hold on to such wonderful promises in the midst of things we cannot understand, but the promises do remain sure and certain. And sometimes faith leads us also to pray for those who would do us harm. After all, if God can save someone like me, He can certainly save a radical terrorist.