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Reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

September 13, 2011 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

As I reflected on the 10th anniversary of September 11th in preparation for this Sunday’s worship service, I found myself drawn to passages that looked forward to that day when Jesus would return and set everything right. Passages like Isaiah 2:4: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” And Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” It is hard to make sense of a tragedy as terrible as September 11th, but one thing that I believe most people of all religious, political, or national backgrounds can agree upon is that we long for the day when there is no more war, no more death, no more mourning or crying or pain.

The tragedy of September 11th, and the promise of future judgment and restoration described in the aforementioned passages, remind us how important it is to remember that judgment and wrath towards evil is part of God’s holy character. If God were a God who shrugged His shoulders at terrorists flying airplanes into the Twin Towers, saying in effect “no big deal,” He would not be a God worthy of worship. But the clear witness of the Bible is that God is the judge of all the earth, that everyone will stand before Him to give an account for their life, and that on that final day, evil will be destroyed and done away with. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” And Revelation gives an especially graphic portrait of the judgment that will be poured out on those who have spent their lives in opposition to God and His will.

Believing that God is a God of judgment and wrath towards evil means that we do not have to take revenge on those who wrong us, but can leave them in the capable hands of our God. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 12:19-21: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Our job, Paul says, is to love even our enemies, overcoming them not by violent force but by unexpected kindness and love. The judgment and vengeance is to be left completely in the hands of our holy God.

I have found no better expression of this than the words of Miroslav Volf, a Yale theologian and Croatian who lived through the violence in the Balkans. In his book Exclusion and Embrace, Volf wrote: “If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence – that God would not be worthy of worship… The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God… My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many in the West… But it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence (results from the belief in) God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die… [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.” Volf’s insightful words remind us that unless we know that God is a God who will judge, we will take up the gun ourselves and go after those who have hurt us, exacting whatever “justice” we consider appropriate. And eventually an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

As we remember the horrific tragedy of 9/11, let us again remind ourselves that we serve a God who is the Judge of all the earth, who will make a final end of all evil. Let us remember as well that His refusal to exercise that judgment at this moment is not because he is incapable or impotent, but because in His grace and mercy He is giving all men and women more time to repent of their sin and turn to Him for forgiveness (read 2 Peter 3:1-14, especially v. 9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” And let us commit ourselves again, as God’s people, to live lives of unexpected kindness and love towards all, especially those who do not deserve it, for that is the grace that our holy God has shown towards us.

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