God and 9/11

I will be working on a paper tomorrow, so I will post my comments on 9/11 tonight.

I was registering for classes at Harvard when 9/11 happened. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could sense from the people around me that something was out of the ordinary. I learned later that morning that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

How did I react? I wasn’t exactly shaken. I had heard about tragedies on the news before, and I already knew that there were terrorists in the world who hated the United States. This time, some of them managed to hijack planes and hit an American target. A reason for my response was that I did not know anyone who died in 9/11. If I had, I probably would have reacted as Ann Coulter did when she heard that her friend lost her life in the disaster.

I heard a variety of religious responses to the tragedy. Overnight, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson became the scum of the earth (or, in the eyes of the left, were further confirmed as such). Their offense was suggesting that 9/11 was a divine punishment on America for its rejection of school prayer and its support for homosexuality and abortion. Ironically, I heard students and professors at Harvard turn right around and say the same sort of thing. They, however, asserted that America deserved 9/11 because of its racism, materialism, and support of Israel. Their paradigm was the same as that of Falwell and Robertson. The only difference was the vices that they attacked (as if support of Israel is a “vice”).

Then, there were the evangelicals at Harvard who tried to distance themselves from Falwell and Robertson. One of them circulated an article stating that God does not punish nations as he did to Old Testament Israel, since God does not have the same covenantal relationship with them. The article was a nice try, but it was wrong. God also punished Gentile nations in the Old Testament, and he pours out his wrath on nations in the Book of Revelation.

At church, I heard people talk about Christians who left the World Trade Center right before the planes hit. They acted like that was divine protection. I heard one woman say, “Everyone God wanted out of there got out of there.” I suppose she was implying that those who survived the attack were more righteous than those who perished. But, in discussing two tragedies, Jesus denied that the Galileans and Judeans who perished were greater sinners than other Galileans and Judeans (Luke 13).

A Christian professor of mine and Alan Keyes (when he visited) offered their theological thoughts on the issue. They argued that the terrorists on 9/11 violated an objective, God-given morality. Yes, the existence of such a morality is actually disputed at Harvard.

When I moved to New York and experienced a post-9/11 world–with its color codes and bag searches–I still heard comments on 9/11. For one, I heard a variety of people testify in lectures and speeches that they actually saw the event. Maybe they did, I don’t know. It just seems that lots of public figures want to get mileage out of being witnesses to the tragedy. Second, in a theology class at JTS, we wrestled with how God could have allowed 9/11. But why does God allow any suffering? I disagree with those who act as if we should dump the traditional concepts of God because of the Holocaust and 9/11. As tragic as those events were, people in ancient times suffered like people today. The ancients did not possess the cures for diseases that we have. They had their wars and tyrants and disasters. Yet, they believed in a higher power. Why shouldn’t we?

9/11 was a horrible event, and people have tried to make sense of it through their theological constructs. In many cases, like Job’s friends, they propose absolute “answers” to complex questions.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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