Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero

September 8, 2002

FAITH AND DOUBT AT GROUND ZERO by Ray Pritchard Researchers tell us that one of the central questions arising out of the ashes of 9/11 is a spiritual one: Where was God when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center? Sometimes the question is put in terms that are agonizingly personal, such as the father who lost his son, a NYC firefighter, when the towers collapsed. “I asked God to give me this one,” he said through tears, “but it wasn’t meant to be.” Then there was the woman whose husband died that day, also a firefighter. She still believes, she said, but she can no longer talk to God at all. “How could God let my husband die like that?” Or the man walking on the beach in Far Rockaway, outside of New York City. “I still believe in the Trinity. The Son I have no problems with. But the Father, that one is hard.” These were a few of the responses I saw during the PBS special “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” last Tuesday night. One man said the terrorist attacks simply confirmed him in his atheism. His words were not defiant, but empty and sad, like a man lost in the woods who has just thrown his compass away. Another man who escaped the World Trade Center attributed it to God’s will–“what is, was and will be” cannot be changed, sounding very much like Ecclesiastes. True biblical faith never denies the harsh realities of life. Evil is real, and so is the pain and suffering we see all around us. The problem is bad enough when a loved one has cancer or when someone we know is hit by a drunk driver. But when thousands of people perish in one fiery moment, we feel as if we have been overwhelmed by evil so monstrous that it strips the gears of our theology, leaving us dazed and uncertain. While reading through Job recently, I was struck again by the emphasis on the utter sovereignty of God. The absurdity of some of the questions God asked Job makes one smile. “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” (Job 38:35) As if to say, “Job, work on lightning for awhile. Once you master that, we’ll talk about the problem of pain.” It’s a good comeback, or divine put-down, if you will, but it’s not really an answer. The ways of God are beyond finding out, but that doesn’t stop us from wondering when we see a loved one suddenly taken from us. And it’s not that Christians have all the answers. We don’t, and we shouldn’t pretend that we do. But we do know the One who is the Answer. As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, our faith tells us that a day is coming when God will wipe away all tears. Until then, we march forward, slowly, still believing even when we don’t fully understand.

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