Friday, November 24, 2006

God and the War on Terror: Where Was God on 9/11?

I haven't been able to post lately do to a grueling end of semester schedule with various papers due in a few short weeks, but I thought I'd carve out just a little time to post a few thoughts.

In September I spent some time thinking about 9/11, as did many Americans, and one of the more interesting television programs that played during this time period was a Frontline piece that aired on PBS titled "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." This program was especially gripping emotionally as it looked at individuals from various faith perspectives, such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and even one atheist, who wrestled with their faith as a result of their experiences in surviving the terrorist attack on 9/11 in New York. Unfortunately, many experienced a serious blow to their conceptions of God as they felt he somehow lost control or abandoned them during this series of events. As one interviewee put it:

"Since Sept. 11, the images that are most vulnerable to being smashed, suddenly, shockingly, are 'God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.' The test of any religion is, what do you do with the bad, and how much 'otherness' can you tolerate? Sept. 11 is so horrible -- and horrible for years and years to come -- that it can just smash any image of God who has a providential plan for me, those I love, my group, my nation, this world."

Beyond these heart wrenching stories two testimonies were especially interesting, that of a Christian who somehow felt that God delivered him from the Twin Towers (countered by a rabbi asking insightfully why God did not deliver others), and an atheist who used to trust in humanity but who lost even this in light of the imploding towers.

The program reminded me of the need for us to embrace some level of ambiguity in our faith, especially in light of the continually perplexing questions surrounding evil in the world. Sadly, evangelicals tend to prefer a form of Christian faith that is cognitively and theologically tight in terms of its intellectual perspectives, even on those issues where we have little to draw upon, in our scriptural canon. Perhaps this is why we prefer The Bible Answer Man to a program like The Bible Ambiguity Man. But perhaps we'd be a little closer to reality, and perceived with a little more credibility if we answered, "I don't know" to some of life's most difficult questions. Surely we believe that God has, in Christ, defeated the powers of evil and begun his new creation, but this does not mean that we have all the answers as to why evil still seems to be so powerful.

In light of my continued reflections on this I was pleased to find a recent lecture by N. T. Wright titled "Where is God in the War on Terror?" In his usual fashion, Wright avoids simplistic answers and provides words that will generate both understanding and challenge to Christians in the West. He concludes with the following:

"Where then is God in the War on Terror? Grieving and groaning within the pain and horror of his battered but still beautiful world. Stirring in the hearts of human beings the desire for a more credible structure of global justice and mercy. Burning into the imagination of human beings a hope that peace and reconciliation might eventually win out over suspicion and hatred, that the world may be put to rights and that we may anticipate that in the present time. My friends, we in our generation – and especially those of you in your teens and twenties – face a new world, full of possibilities for great good and great ill. I have argued this evening that the Christian gospel, revealing the mysterious God we discover in Jesus and the Spirit, offers a robust and rigorous framework for discerning where God is at work in the midst of the dangers and opportunities that confront us. All of us in our different callings are summoned to this task; some of you, perhaps, to make it your life’s work. Jesus is Lord. The Spirit is powerful. God is doing a new thing. Let’s get out there and join in."


Anonymous said...

John, we do need to embrace ambiguity in our faith and we need to admit that ambiguity. We don’t have all the answers and we certainly can’t explain God. Thanks for posting this.

I took my oldest son back for a week at ground zero just three weeks after 9/11. We spent our time on the streets right around ground zero praying with and just letting people talk out their emotions. We were also in the secured areas with the people who were working to locate and remove the dead and remove the debris and wreckage. It was still a stinking, smoking mess – and a sobering time. The people stories I could tell.

Of the hundred or so people I personally talked and prayed with, few questioned God. They were simply and profoundly moved that people from Oregon would come and pray for them. We couldn’t get our booth set-up quickly enough each morning before they were asking to talk and pray. We also visited firehouses, parks, and talked to strangers on our subway rides. They were all open to a loving touch from God. Remember, we are talking about New Yorkers! We never went with a hidden agenda and we never attempted to explain why. We just went to be a blessing and support in a horrible time. After talking and praying, most felt God hadn’t abandon them and they saw his face in us.

John W. Morehead said...

Rick, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your willingness to embrace ambiguity in our faith, and it was great to hear of your experiences at Ground Zero with your son. Thanks too for a great blog, The Blind Beggar, and the website Friend of Missional.