Seventeen years ago yesterday (September 11, 2001), Judith and I were living in Downtown Manhattan in close proximity to the Twin Towers. The second of the terrorist planes flew above us at a high-pitched scream before a mighty explosion as it crashed into the South Tower.
In spring and early summer that year I had started a mid-week interactive Bible program on Wall Street, Downtown and in Midtown – what we called ‘More to Life: Wall Street Ministry’. On 9/11 I was to speak on the subject, ‘God, why don’t you clean up the mess?’ Needless to say, I did not give that talk that day.
In the course of teaching and pastoral ministry that followed that day, I observed that our culture has made a habit of setting aside the wisdom of the past and especially the wisdom of the Bible. I noted how interesting it is that in the midst of catastrophe, in times when we are confronted with the harsh realities of life, the words and wisdom of the Bible reveal a unique power. The Psalms, for example, provide comfort for the broken-hearted and hope for the bereaved. Indeed, the President on the night of 9/11 quoted from Psalm 23.
Psalm 46. In my ministry I drew attention to Psalm 46: 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…
The God of the Bible knows about the devastating events and suffering. Encouragingly, Psalm 46 tells us that God’s presence is neither interrupted by nor dislocated from such events. Rather, the Psalm reveals God as being in the midst of them. He is not the cause of wickedness, but neither is he removed from it.
The good news is, as the Psalm goes on to assure us, God has not left us to our own devices. He has committed himself to be involved. He will hear us and sustain us, despite the awfulness of our experiences. We read: There is a river, whose streams make glad the city of God…. God is with her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Justice. Bubbling through Psalm 46 is the implication that God will comfort by bringing about his justice. Indeed, all of us have within us a sense of right and wrong that cries out for justice, especially when great wickedness has been perpetrated.
It’s important to think about this. If we lived in a world that had come into existence simply by the process of spontaneous change, we would be nothing but particles, bumping around in some sort of meaningful connection. Our conscious state would be nothing more than electrical discharges in the human brain.
If this is how we view life, we can hardly be morally indignant about behavior that results from quarks smashing together. The issues of wickedness and suffering, and our cry for justice, lose their relevance.
Rather, the sense of justice we have within us is in line with the Bible’s teaching that condemns violence and the taking of innocent life.
Psalm 46 is one of a number of Psalms that point us to the New Testament and its teaching that wickedness will not triumph, that God will vindicate the innocent and glorify his own name. His judgment may be slow as we count time, but it is very sure.
We can be sure of this because of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus comes between the good creation of God, ruined by human sin with which the Bible begins, and the promise of a restored creation with which the Bible ends – where God will wipe away every tear … there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4).
It is on the cross where a godless world put to death the sinless Son of God, that Jesus took the consequences of the wickedness of the world into himself. From that day, God has promised to forgive all who truly turn to him – something we all need to do, for none of us is righteous in God’s eyes. It is the cross of Christ that gives us confidence that God has our good in mind no matter what wickedness is perpetrated.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:38f – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the kind of faith that answers fear and assures us that God truly is our refuge and strength.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com