Twenty years ago my wife Judith and I were living three short blocks south of the Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan. We had awakened that Tuesday morning to clear blue skies and the sparkling waters of New York harbour. But it was not to last.
We felt the shock when the first tower was hit from the north. We heard the scream of the second jet flying low overhead and what sounded like a sonic boom when the South Tower was hit.
When the first tower collapsed we experienced the shaking of our apartment building, similar to that of an earthquake, and the midnight darkness. We saw the dust, ash and paper on the streets and felt the eerie silence when we were later able to leave our building. Lower Manhattan was like a moonscape. A great evil occurred that day.
Two decades on, it is easy to put aside the hideous acts that cut short the lives of people going about their daily affairs. It is easy to forget that commercial airliners were used as missiles to crash into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. A further flight intended for more destruction was thwarted by the selfless, heroic efforts of passengers. People on that flight prayed the Lord’s Prayer as the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. In all, nearly 3000 men and women died that day.
In his address to the nation that evening, George W. Bush, then President, called for prayers for all who had lost loved ones. He said: “And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me’.”
God didn’t create evil but, because he didn’t make us robots, he allowed it.
In the Wall Street Bible talks I was giving at the time I spoke on Psalm 46, which begins: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging”.
Creation in turmoil. It can never be said that the Bible knows nothing about catastrophic events – not least human evil and its devastating effects on this world. Indeed, the psalm introduces a theme we often overlook today – namely, the ultimate dissolution of the present world order by its Creator. God continues his work even in the midst of chaos. God's supremacy and presence with his people is never thwarted. He alone is our security and our strength.
God didn’t create evil but, because he didn’t make us robots, he allowed it. As a side note, if we insist we’re here by chance and are nothing but atoms in an ordered cohesion bumping around in time and space, evil and suffering have no meaning for there is no transcendental moral compass.
The words of Psalm 46 speak of the unchanging nature of our God. Amid the instability of evil and human tumult, we are exhorted not to fear, even if the world around us is undone. Why? Because he remains supreme over every facet of his creation – the earth, the mountains and the seas. Mind-bending though the idea is, at his command the nations will be called to order, confronted by his glorious power.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, churches were filled as many looked for comfort and hope. Some came to the risen Lord Jesus Christ for the first time.
As we reflect on these events 20 years on, amid another time of turmoil, will you join with me in praying for the nations – especially that God might open blind eyes and unstop deaf ears, turning hard hearts towards their true home in Christ?
The Rev Canon John G. Mason, is a speaker and writer, formerly a rector in Sydney and New York. He is president and chairman of Anglican Connection, which is running follow-up seminars to its February conference to help people discover how to read John’s Gospel with friends through Word One-to-One (word121.com). See details of the October seminars for ministers, lay leaders and ministry staff at anglicanconnection.com.
Photo credit: New York National Guard