Where Is God At Times Like These? by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
The images have now been forever etched into the recesses of our minds. Our generation never will forget the pictures of that hijacked plane purposefully nose-diving into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Before we had time to catch our breath and fully comprehend what was happening, both towers imploded and careened towards the ground—leaving everything for miles around covered in a morose gray ash. As our brains began to calculate the morbidity of this tragedy, we quickly learned that there were, in fact, other hijacked planes and more victims subjected to flaming rubble. In the blink of an eye, countless individuals lost their lives—some choosing to do so in their attempt to cripple the United States. But the majority were innocent men, women, and children—men, women, and children who started that fateful day with their normal routine, never expecting to take their final step into eternity on that tragic day of September 11, 2001.
As news crews scrambled to provide us with the most shocking images and the most heart-rending stories some of us have ever seen, a quiet but detectable uncertainty began to ripple throughout communities in light of these tragic events: “Where was God, and why did He let this happen to so many innocent people?” Had we been forgotten? A semblance of these questions was echoed thousands of years ago by King David, who desperately asked: “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalms 10:1). The Israelite Gideon lamented: “Oh my lord, if Jehovah is with us, why then is all this befallen us?” (Judges 6:13). During tragedies like the attack on the World Trade Center, questions similar to these will be heralded not only from street corners in front of news cameras, but also whispered through sobs and tears in the dark recesses of private bedroom closets.
The appeal is simple enough to understand: “If there really is a God, then why did so many people die?” This simple question often becomes a stumbling block for individuals—who subsequently make a conscientious decision not to believe in God. Many rationalize it this way: if God can prevent evil, but will not, then He is not good; or if He wants to prevent evil, but cannot, then He is not all-powerful. Unfortunately, it is often during the pain that we forget that God is in the same place—heaven—He was when His own Son was being maliciously nailed to that old rugged cross almost two thousand years ago. Fortunately, on that grim day God remained in heaven as the sin of all humanity was placed on His Son’s back and nailed to that cross.
Thanks to God’s incredible love (1 John 4:8), humanity—all of humanity—has been endowed with free will (see Genesis 2:16-17, Joshua 24:15, Isaiah 7:15, John 5:39-40, 7:17, and Revelation 22:17). God loves us enough to allow us freedom of choice. Thus, all of those responsible for the savage attack upon the Pentagon and the World Trade Center woke up on that Tuesday morning with the freedom to choose what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go, for we know that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).
So why, then, didn’t God reach down and save those innocent people, as many have asked? Why didn’t He just stretch out His almighty arm and cradle those hundreds of innocent lives in the palm of His hand? Again, because God loves us! We live in a world regulated by natural laws that were established at the creation of the world. For example, the laws of gravity and motion behave consistently; thus, if you were to step in front of a moving bus, the laws of motion would keep that bus moving even though it would result in your death. But individuals still ask “Why?” Why could not God intervene to prevent such disasters? Think for just a minute what sort of world this would be if God directly intervened—suspending His natural laws—each time a human encountered a life-threatening situation. This would cause indescribable chaos and confusion all over our planet. This chaotic, haphazard system would argue more for atheism than it would for theism!
Where was God when that plane full of innocent passengers slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center? He was right where he has always been—in heaven, on His holy mountain (Psalm 15:1), with Christ at His side (Mark 16:19)—a place where there is no more suffering. We must remember that while we do not understand every facet of human suffering, we can (and have the obligation to) explain enough to negate the charge that misery is incompatible with the existence of God. And we must yearn with every fiber of our being to make our permanent abode in those heavenly mansions (John 14:1-3) where “the wicked cease from troubling and there the weary are at rest” (Job 3:17). God did not forget us on September 11, 2001 just as He did not forget Christ when He hung on that cruel cross of Calvary. From the time He created us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27) until the time each of our souls returns to Him (Ecclesiastes 12:7), He is our God.