September 8, 2002

ONE YEAR LATER

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:8

September 11 is a special day for my family. That’s the date my daughter Maria was born. Maria’s birthday made each September 11 a day for parties and celebration. But September 11, 2001, was different. It was not a day of fun and games but a day of shock and horror. It was not a day of life but of death. After airplanes crashed and the World Trade Center collapsed and smoke poured from the Pentagon, young Maria looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Daddy, what did I do to make something so horrible happen on my birthday?” I assured Maria that she hadn’t done anything to cause such awful things. This year, as September 11 approaches, our family plans to celebrate Maria’s birthday again, but we will also mourn many deaths. September 11 will never again be quite the same for our family.

For others, of course, September 11 will be far worse. This week brings the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and for many thousands of people, that means the first anniversary of losing friends or family members. On September 11 bereaved people will grieve anew that their loved ones are gone. On September 11 millions in New York and Washington, D.C., will feel afresh how their cities and businesses and families have been affected. On September 11 soldiers and military families will sense how much more dangerous military service has become in the past year. On September 11 hundreds of millions throughout the United States and the entire free world will solemnly remember what happened a year ago and reflect on the dangers that remain.

For many of us, this is also a time for soul-searching and spiritual reflection, a time to think about God and our relationship to him.

Be Still And Know

One year ago, on September 11, I was stunned and my mind was spinning. Rather than celebrating my daughter’s birthday, as I had hoped to do, I was struggling to find words to encourage radio listeners. I focused especially on Psalm 46. Verse 1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” In verse 10 God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” As I reflected on being still before God, here are some of the thoughts that came to me.

In stillness before God, we find the only place to bring our broken hearts. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5). In stillness before God, we pour out our tears and seek the help of the only one who can mend broken hearts and brings his love to bear on shattered lives.

In stillness before God, we face the future. We seek his comfort, healing, and strength. We seek his love to keep us from sinking into the kind of hate that inspired such attacks in the first place.

In stillness before God, we also find the only place of stability and security. Nothing else can help us. We can’t trust in our military power. Even the Pentagon, the command center of the world’s most powerful military, could not protect itself. We can’t trust in money or economic clout. Even the World Trade Center, the hub of economic power on our planet, could not protect itself. We need a power greater than money, greater than weapons, greater than anything humans can do. We need God.

In stillness before God, we find what really matters. Our lives are often noisy and full of various things, but tragedy forces us to our knees in God’s presence. When things are in chaos, when death strikes in such a terrible way, we are stunned. Things that fill much of our time suddenly don’t matter much. Sports don’t mean much; the games eventually resume, but we’ve got more important things to think about. Money doesn’t mean much; we go back to work and try to carry on business as usual, but money seems minor compared to life-and-death issues. In the face of death, it’s hard not to think of eternity.

In stillness before God, we find that the city of God is the only city that lasts forever. New York City and Washington D.C. are great cities. More human power is concentrated in these two cities than in any other cities on earth. But the attacks on these cities showed that no city of man is invulnerable and everlasting. Only the city of God stands firm forever.

In stillness before God, we find that he is our only reliable refuge and strength in times of trouble. One year later, many of us can testify that September 11 shocked us into stillness before God. In that stillness, we found many precious things that we might otherwise have missed out on.

Is God Trustworthy?

Many people experienced the September 11 tragedy as an event that drove them to get connected with God, but others saw it as one more reason not to believe in God at all. The president of the American Atheist organization declared, “If that wasn’t a wake up call to a religious nation, I don’t know what is. That said to me, ‘There is no God.’ Where was he, on a coffee break?”

If we define God as a being who prevents anything sinful or painful from happening, then I agree with the atheist that such a God does not exist. And for our sake, it’s a good thing he doesn’t. If such a God did exist, you and I would not exist. All of us humans commit sins and cause pain to others. If we reject the God who allows evil to exist, we reject the God who allows us to exist. God has the power to destroy all terrorists and all other sinners this very instant, but he chooses not to do so. Would we really want God to get rid of all humans, or never to have let us be born in the first place, simply so that he would fit our idea of a God who never allows anything bad to happen?

None of us will understand all of God’s mysterious ways. None of us has all the answers to the problem of evil and suffering. But when the question comes up whether we can believe in God in such circumstances, I can only say that I don’t believe in God in the abstract. I trust God in the flesh. I trust God in Jesus Christ. I trust a Lord who suffers with us and for us. Jesus knows from personal experience what it’s like to be hated, attacked, tortured, and killed.

If you had been a follower of Jesus the day he was crucified, you might have been tempted to say, “I can’t believe in a God who would allow something so horrible to happen.” But the terror and agony of the cross was God’s way of giving himself to the world in the person of his Son. God the Son, Jesus Christ, paid for the sins of the world in order to save sinners, and his suffering also enables him to sympathize with our sufferings and to help us in our weakness (Hebrews 2:18,4:16). Jesus’ suffering shows that God is with us in our pain and that God can use even the worst event to accomplish something good. The fact that Jesus overcame death and rose to eternal life is the basis for trusting that beyond this world of suffering is a grand, eternal future for all who trust Christ.

God is trustworthy, even when horrible things happen. In fact, it is during such times that people are most likely to turn to him. Oh, there are some who become even more fierce in their unbelief, like the ACLU attorneys who went to court against a school that posted the words “God Bless America” after the terrorist attacks, or like the atheist who persuaded a U.S. circuit court to reject the American Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional because it speaks of being “under God.” But though the events of last September 11 hardened some people against God, they softened many others.

After the terrorist attacks, many people who weren’t very religious started praying more and went to church more. In some cases the interest in God soon faded and people went back to business as usual. But for others the longing for God took root and grew, and today they are different people than they were a year ago. I know people like that. Tragedy got their attention and drove them to God, and now they know Jesus Christ as Savior. The shock of September 11 jolted them off the road to hell and landed them on Christ’s path that leads to heaven. Others who were already trusting Christ before September 11 have found that their faith has become purer and stronger since then.

Is the End Near?

One year later there is more faith in the Lord than there was before the attacks, and there is also more interest in God’s timetable for history. Many wonder whether we’re getting close to the final chapter of this world. A year ago some newspapers reported the tragedy with such headlines as “Apocalypse” and “Is This the End of the World?” A recent cover story in Time magazine was titled “The Bible and the Apocalypse” and explored why so many people are talking about the end of the world and reading books about it.

It’s good if more people are taking Bible prophecy seriously, but we should remember that not all popular fiction is a biblical fact, and we must think about the end with faith, not fear. We shouldn’t think that conflict and catastrophe mean that the end of the world is right around the corner. Jesus says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6 RSV).

Some people are quick to see any catastrophe as a sign that the end of the world is near. But Jesus says that even when such things happen, it’s not the end. The timing of the world’s end is not determined by terrorists or wars or famines or economic meltdowns. Such things may be part of the larger picture, but God alone determines when the end will come. God, not Satan, is governing events and controlling the clock. And God’s timetable is set first of all by the spread of his gospel, not by political events or national disasters.

In Jesus’ words, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). God has a plan for every nation and people group to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s very possible that we’re approaching the final chapter of history, but if so, the main sign of that is the way the message of Christ is becoming known in every part of the globe. The gospel of love, not any explosion of hate, determines God’s calendar. This world will end and Jesus will return only after the gospel reaches every corner of the earth. The spread of the good news is more important than anything else that happens in the world.

Meanwhile, says Jesus, terrible things must happen in a wicked world, but he tells his people not to be alarmed. How can he say that? When people are dying, when the world is in turmoil, when the very end of the world might be close at hand, how can we not be alarmed? Only by trusting Jesus. He makes it possible to feel secure about our own personal destiny and the destiny of the world at large.

Jesus says that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from God’s will. Jesus doesn’t say that sparrows never fall, and he doesn’t say that his people will never suffer or die. God is in control and cares for those who trust him, but he doesn’t always shield us from the pain and anguish of our sinful, broken world. Jesus had to suffer, and a servant is not greater than the Master. We will suffer too. But with Jesus at our side, we can face the uncertain future with courage and calm. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus doesn’t say that nothing bad will happen to us. But he says he will help us overcome the horrors.

How can followers of Jesus have peace in troubled times? The Bible says, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him… Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:5,8). Our bodies and souls are in the hands of our strong, loving Father. No time is so good that we don’t need him, and no time is so bad that he can’t help us. Trust in him at all times.

Taking Stock

One year after the September 11 attack, it’s a good time for taking stock of our relationship to God. Last September 11, when my daughter Maria’s birthday was clouded by the terrorist attacks, she asked me, “Daddy, what did I do to make something so horrible happen on my birthday?” When bad things hit close to home, children can be too quick to think they must be somehow to blame. But adults can be too slow to take stock of where we stand and of what we might be doing wrong. I don’t want anybody to have a needless guilt trip as though everything bad that happens is their own fault–nobody but the terrorists should accept direct blame for the attacks–but national calamities are a time to take stock of our standing with God as a nation and as individuals and to correct what’s wrong.

As a nation, the United States did not cause the terrorist attack, but such a dreadful event still serves as an occasion for the world’s most powerful nation—and all other nations–to be humbled before God and to seek not only his help but also his holiness. The Bible records many occasions when God used attacks from enemies and various disasters to cleanse his people, correct their behavior, and turn their hearts back to him. If you don’t want to hear this from a preacher, then listen to President Abraham Lincoln. He believed that God directs the affairs of nations and that calamity could serve as a call for nationwide repentance. “We know that nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world,” said Lincoln. “We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten God. We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.” If a nation blatantly denies that it is under God, or if public policy conflicts with God’s will, or if most citizens wallow in ungodly behavior and remain unrepentant, that nation has forgotten God and is provoking him to wrath. Calamity, even if it’s not a direct punishment, can be God’s way of getting a nation’s attention.

Each nation should take stock, and each individual should take stock. When Jesus spoke about some terrible events in which people were killed, he said plainly that the victims were no more sinful than anyone else. But he also said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). We don’t have to accept personal blame for a particular calamity, but every calamity should teach us afresh that we live in a sinful, broken world, that we contribute to that sin and brokenness ourselves, and that we must repent and turn away from everything in our life that offends God and harms people. Every calamity reminds us that our lives are fragile, that we must trust God at all times, and be ready to meet him at any time.

Each of us is given a limited time on this earth. In that time we must enter into a right relationship with God. If our time runs out and we’re not right with God, we will perish forever in hell. If we belong to Jesus by faith, we will live forever in heavenly joy. When will our time run out? Time could run out for all of us at the same time if the end of the world comes soon, but time could also run out suddenly for you or me individually at any moment if death comes unexpectedly. We must be ready at all times to meet our final destiny.

Darryl Kile was a professional athlete, only 33 years old. On a Tuesday night in June he pitched a game and led his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, to victory. A few days later, as the Cardinals were preparing for another game, they noticed that Darryl wasn’t at the ballpark with the rest of the team. When his hotel room was checked, Darryl’s body was found lying in his bed. Without any prior health problem, he had suddenly died.

I didn’t know Darryl Kile, but I did know Joan Scheeringa. Joan, a friend and fellow worker on our Back to God Hour staff, died recently and unexpectedly. She had just spent her usual busy week handling mail and phone calls, and when she left the office Friday afternoon, it never entered anyone’s mind that she would never come back. But that Sunday she wasn’t in church, which was very rare for Joan. Some of her relatives went to her home and found her in her bed. She had gone to sleep as usual on Saturday night but didn’t wake up Sunday morning. That’s how suddenly a life can end. It was a terrible shock to lose Joan so suddenly, but it’s also a tremendous comfort that Joan trusted Jesus and was ready to meet him. If this gentle woman of God could speak to us right now, she would say how wonderful heaven is and urge each us to be ready for eternity.

Are you ready? You don’t know when your moment will come, and neither do I, but one thing is sure: that moment must come for each of us. Life is so fragile, and death can be so sudden, that you and I must be ready at any time. The people killed in the terrorist attacks last September 11 weren’t planning to die when they got up that morning. They were planning on another busy, active day. But in an instant, their life on earth ended. Now they are in eternity. In the past year, many more people have died one by one from stroke or heart attack or cancer or accident or crime than died in the attacks last September 11. Many of them never saw death coming, but now they are in eternity. Their destiny is fixed. What if you had died? Would you have been ready? Would you be in heaven or hell?

Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9). Jesus is the door to heaven. Jesus lived a perfect life that will be credited to you if you believe in him. Jesus died a terrible death to pay for your sins and save you from hell. Jesus rose from the dead, and he gives eternal life to anyone who believes, life that continues even after you die. He has prepared a wonderful home in heaven for all who trust him, and when he comes again, he will bring heaven to earth. If you trust Jesus, you are ready to meet God right now. If not, there is no better time than right now to put your faith in him. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, our refuge and strength, our help in time of trouble, have mercy on us. As we mark the first anniversary of a terrible calamity, we pour out our hearts to you. Comfort the grieving, encourage the fearful, and save the lost. Guide the nations of the world and their leaders. Above all, draw more and more of us to Jesus. Forgive our sins, dear Lord, and give us assurance that we have eternal life in you. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.