Understanding Suffering

from National Tragedy to Personal Loss

by Kim Harrington

(an excerpt from the new book)



There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

Luke 13:1-5

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists commandeered four American passenger jets with the intent of crashing them into selected political and commercial targets. They were only too successful, as all the world is now aware. Two of the airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third smashed into a corner of the Pentagon in Washington D.C. "like an ax into a birthday cake," one reporter observed. The fourth, whose passengers became aware of the hijackers’ true intentions through furtive calls to loved ones on cell phones, failed to reach its intended target, none other than the White House—a small band of heroes took the terrorists on and the plane plunged into a Pennsylvania field.

The toll in American lives was greater than any single day since the Civil War of the 1860s. Some 3000 people were lost as the 110-story skyscrapers in New York caved in upon themselves, their steel girders melted by the flaming jet fuel—the hijackers had purposely selected coast-to-coast flights that would be carrying the maximum amount of fuel. Two hundred more died in the Pentagon, and three hundred people were in the planes used to carry out the cowardly act. Exact figures have still not been determined (as of this writing), but the bottom line could not be clearer: the United States had become the victim of the worst act of terrorism in world history.

The perpetrators of this infamous deed were mostly of Arabic descent, apparently agents under the control of one Osama Bin Laden, an ex-patriot Saudi, who has also been implicated in the bombing of two American embassies in Africa, the destruction of the battleship USS Cole in a Yemen harbor, and several other terrorist incidents. President George W. Bush has declared war on Bin Laden and terrorism in general. There are sure to be more victims, military and civilian, innocent and otherwise, both on American soil and elsewhere in the world. The United States has little choice but to respond aggressively; war is being waged on our citizens—men, women, and children—and more will die, regardless of what we do.

Why? A host of answers may be arrayed... America has long been portrayed to the Muslim peoples of the Mideast as "the Great Satan," the heir-apparent of the western imperialist powers of days gone by (in spite of the fact that we had no empire, and were in fact the first nation to throw off the yoke of imperialism). We are seen as the power behind the nation of Israel, arch-enemy of the Arab bloc, whom they have sworn to drive into the sea. Add to this the corrupting influence of American television, and the cultural threat it represents to developing nations the world over, and you may begin to understand why Palestinians danced in the streets of Gaza when they heard of the World Trade Center tragedy, and Saddam Hussein, whose own imperialist dreams were thwarted by American might, congratulated the dead terrorists on a job well done.

Why did it happen? Airport security was lax, effective only in terms of aggravating someone with a large belt buckle, but helpless and impotent in thwarting a potential hijacker. The CIA and FBI have been crippled by over-regulation since the early seventies, when Congress began to take an adversarial stance to these agencies. Fear of being accused of "racial profiling" has kept them from truly keeping an eye on potential terrorists.

Why? We have been arrogant, proud in our assumption that it could never happen here, over-confident in our law enforcement agencies who seemed to have headed off a few earlier attempts. We refused to accept the fact that we were relatively easy targets to a determined terrorist. We won’t make that mistake again, at least not for awhile; this "wake-up call from hell" has underscored our vulnerability. We will not soon forget September 11, 2001.

There are deeper, more disturbing "whys?" that need to be addressed, however, especially for the Christian. We believe in a gracious, loving, heavenly Father—where was He when thousands of innocent people were plunged to their deaths in the World Trade Center? How could God allow this to happen?

If He had foreknowledge of these events and did nothing to avert them, what kind of God is He? If He didn’t know in advance, then what’s the point of believing in such a God? The people of the United States are looking to the Christians and our God for some answers—they are listening to us in this hour of national tragedy. We must see to it that God’s true perspective is given to them, that the Word of God is faithfully declared, that His ways and attitudes are rightly stated, or we could inadvertently turn a needy people away from the only One Who can help them make sense of the whole affair.

We Christians, especially pastors and leaders, are spokespersons for our God. Some have produced off-the-cuff remarks that are entirely unsatisfactory—and unscriptural. One radio preacher declared, "Don’t you think for a minute that this wasn’t of God!" A few have suggested that this terrible blow is divine judgment for our nation’s sins. Nearly all Christians agree that "God is in control."

Let me correct one misconception before we even get started. God is not killing innocent people in order to make a point, or to emphasize His frustration with us as a nation. That is what the terrorists were trying to do. God is decidedly not a terrorist!

Of course, the question of why the innocent suffer goes far beyond a terrorist incident, no matter how horrible. It applies to every loss, every sorrow, every painful experience suffered by mankind. Why did that child die in a car accident? why was that cancer not healed, in spite of the sincere prayers of the church? why was that athletic young man paralyzed? How unfair. (My own mother passed away within a few weeks of September eleventh.) How do we reconcile our belief in a loving God when all around us we see pain and suffering?

For that matter, what is the proper Christian response to such a cowardly, yet devastating, attack? How do the biblical admonitions to love your enemy and turn the other cheek apply in such cases? What should the United States do? What stance must the church take to be in conformity with the revealed will of God?

Those are among the questions that we intend to address in the remainder of this little book.

Copyright © 2001 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.


Chapter Titles

Making Sense of Tragedy & Suffering

The Patience of Job

The Benefits of Suffering

Jesus Addresses the Question

of Tragedy & the Will of God

Turn the Other Cheek?


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