Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Where Was God on 9/11?

We were running late that morning, so my wife Shirin and daughter Sarah missed their regular train at the Babylon station of the Long Island Rail Road. Then just as I saw them disappear into the crowd rushing to get into Manhattan that bright, sunny morning, I heard on the car radio that a small plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. I thought little about it, assuming some minimal damage had been done to the great structure.

Minutes later the information was corrected. It wasn’t a small, single-engine plane, but a full-sized airliner. I knew instantly what that meant. Then a second plane struck. Dread filled my heart as I tried to call my wife and daughter on their cell phones, but everyone in the New York Metropolitan area was also trying to reach their loved ones. Communication was impossible. That began a period of agonizing waiting.

On the train Shirin and Sarah kept hearing cell phones going off and words of shock and disbelief all throughout the train car. They saw ahead through the windows what looked like two chimneys smoking in the distance. By now it was clear to everyone what had happened.

As hard as we tried, my daughter Stephanie and I couldn’t reach them. We had to wait and pray another eight hours before we could make contact with them. Then we discovered that theirs was the first train stopped at Jamaica Station before entering the tunnel into New York City. If they’d been on time, they too would have been in the city that day.

Only those people who were there can really know the massive panic and widespread chaos that engulfed the entire region. It was as if a nuclear blast had taken place. No one doubts that the world changed on 9/11 and that it will not return to what it was before. But what will stay the same is what became evident to a great many: God is in charge even when everything seems to be falling apart.

As the days went by, I discovered that our experience of being too late to get into the city was typical of what many other pastors reported. Their parishioners were just not able to get into the city no matter how hard they tried. Alarm clocks failed to go off, the car wouldn't start, the kids wouldn't get ready for school on time. It was due to such things that most of the 50,000 people expected to be in their Twin Towers offices simply couldn't get there. (On an average day, the Twin Towers held 50,000 workers and over 200,000 visitors. The official figure of those killed in the attacks as of 9/5/02: 2,819.)

But still too many loved ones perished. We remain thankful for those who are still alive, yet grieve for those who did arrive at work on time, and for the firemen and policemen who laid down their lives to save others.

Through the tragedy of 9/11, we learned to lean on the promises in Scripture that tell us that God was in charge of each and every one that day. For some, their appointment with eternity was kept. For others, he had a purpose for them to fulfill on this earth. This has always been true in history through wars, storms, disasters, and all the rest—what is intended as evil to harm us, God intends for our good (Gen. 50:20). We can't explain all his purposes in such things, but we can see the evidence that there is a preserving hand active in them all.

To those who fear more 9/11’s and increasing acts of terrorism in the future, this is encouraging news. It means that whatever happens to and around us happens within an overarching purpose and that nothing is allowed to occur that isn’t first permitted. We won't know all the whys on this side of history, but we can be assured that history is in the hands of the great Designer. Our task is not to tell God how to run his world or to challenge his wisdom, but to ask what is expected of us in the days allotted to us. As much as it may grieve our loved ones or us, what matters is not how or when we die, but how we live.

Let’s remember 9/11 by committing ourselves to living every day as though it might be our last, determining to fill each moment of our life in loving each other, glorifying and enjoying the God who has given us every day as a great and precious gift.

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