Why does God allow terrible events like 9/11 to happen? Some men contend that He’d like to stop them, but either He is powerless to do so, or that if He did, it would involve a violation of human free will which is supposedly contrary to His nature. But perhaps by looking at what the bible has to say about the greatest injustice in history – the crucifixion of God’s Son Jesus – we can find out how and why God allows terrible events to happen.
After Jesus was sent by Caiaphas the High Priest to Pontius Pilate to be executed (because only the Roman government had the legal authority to put men to death) Pilate, who was personally reluctant to order the execution, asked Jesus a critical question:
10 Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”
11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”
In his statement to Pilate in verse 11 Jesus corrects Pilate and points out two things, the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. This, says Jesus, is happening according to God’s appointment, and yet the sin was still Caiphas’ for delivering Him up to be executed. This idea that the crucifixion was ordained by God, and yet men sinned by carrying it out was also reinforced by Peter in his speech on Pentecost:
Acts 2:23 “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
24 “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
Even though Jesus and Peter clearly point out that God is in control of terrible events like the crucifixion and 9/11, many well meaning Christians still seek to deny this biblical idea, finding greater comfort in the idea that God is powerless to stop them. I remember after the 9/11 attacks receiving an email that answered the question “Where was God on 9/11?” by saying God was trying to stop people from getting on the planes or going to work – and which stated that at the end of the day, “He sat down and cried that 19 of his children could have so much hate in their hearts. That they didn’t choose him, and now they are lost forever.””
That simply isn’t true, God no more sat down and cried on 9/11 than He did when His only begotten Son was being put to death on that Friday before the Passover Sabbath.
John Blanchard put it much better in his booklet “Where is God when things Go Wrong?”:
“Soon after the events of 11 September 2001, I was asked, ‘Where was God when religious fanatics killed those 2,800 people?’ I replied, ‘Exactly where he was when religious fanatics killed his Son, Jesus Christ — in complete control of everything that happened.’ This is the clear teaching of Scripture. Those who collaborated in the execution of Jesus are described as ‘wicked men’, yet his death was also according to ‘God’s set purpose and foreknowledge’ (Acts 2:23).”
This is because God can use even the worst of suffering to bring about the greatest good, as Joseph, wrongly sold into slavery by his own brothers told them:
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20).
Perhaps even now you are thinking, “That cannot be true!”
Really? Did you create the universe? Do you know the end from before the beginning? Can you redeem a fallen and hopelessly wicked mankind? God did and does and is, and He uses all things, even the worst of human evil, to accomplish his good plans.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Joni Erickson Tada, has been called to grapple with the biblical doctrine that God can and does use even terrible personal suffering for good as few of us ever will. Paralyzed at the age of 17 by a childhood swimming accident, she has spent her entire life as a quadriplegic often grappling with intense and chronic pain, and yet she understands how in the sovereignty of God, it was and is being used for good:
“My accident was not a punishment for my wrongdoing — whether or not I deserved it. Only God knows why I was paralyzed. Maybe he knew I’d ultimately be happier serving him. If I were still on my feet, it’s hard to say how things might have gone. I probably would have drifted through life — marriage, maybe even divorce — dissatisfied and disillusioned…
I’m really thankful he did something to get my attention and change me. Today as I look back, I am convinced that the whole ordeal of my paralysis was inspired by God’s love. I wasn’t the brunt of some cruel divine joke. God had reasons behind my suffering, and learning some of them has made all the difference in the world.”
Far from gaining any sort of comfort in the idea that God isn’t in control in the midst of pain, Joni has learned that it is only in God’s sovereignty that we can find TRUE comfort. As Joni put it so well –
“When we learn to lean back on God’s sovereignty, fixing and settling our thoughts on that unshakeable, unmovable reality, we can experience great inner peace. Our troubles may not change. Our pain may not diminish. Our loss may not be restored. Our problems may not fade with the new dawn. But the power of those things to harm us is broken as we rest in the fact that God is in control.”