Question of Faith: Drawing lessons from 9/11

A test of the Tribute in Light rose above lower Manhattan on Tuesday. The memorial, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, will light the sky Sunday evening in honor of those who died 10 years ago.
A test of the Tribute in Light rose above lower Manhattan on Tuesday. The memorial, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, will light the sky Sunday evening in honor of those who died 10 years ago. AP

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of the well-known book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, was sought out for commentary in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He has written about that time in his new book, Conquering Fear, devoting a chapter to the fallout of the attacks, which mark their 10th anniversary Sunday.

He found that 9/11 left people across the United States with a deep sense of vulnerability. Explaining terrorism and its power, Kushner writes: "Terrorist math is simple. Kill one person, frighten a thousand. Kill a few thousand people, terrify an entire population. ... The power of a terrorist act, the secret of its effectiveness, lies in its randomness."

He also writes of conquering the power of terrorism: "We will have to hold on to our faith that God has given us a world where evil is possible but evil will ultimately consume itself."

We asked our Question of Faith panel, comprising mostly Central Kentucky faith leaders, this question: How do you explain to fellow worshipers why bad things happen to good people? Is there a spiritual lesson to be learned from the tragedy of 9/11? What could the lesson be? Is life random?

This is a selection of their edited responses:

Mickey Anders, South Elkhorn Christian Church: Many people were providentially spared from the tragedy on 9/11. All of those who were spared rightly gave thanks to God.

But God has also been seen rising from the ashes of the World Trade Center. Countless volunteers, including my sister-in-law, descended on New York to bring hope and reconciliation to a devastated area.

Not everything that happens to us is God's will, but God is so powerful that even evil can serve God's purposes. God does not will evil, but God can make good come out of evil.

This does not mean that evil is secretly good. It does not mean that we ought to try to comfort others by telling them that tragedy is not really so bad after all, or that it is for our own good or for a higher good.

But it does mean that we can trust God to make good come even from bad circumstances. Evil happens, chance happens, but God is still at work in the midst of it all.

God will take our fearful heart and give us courage; God will take our hurt and hate, and fashion them into peace.

Shahied Rashid, an imam of Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah Muslim congregation: All of life is a test, the good and the bad. If you're a person who has good fortune, whether it be wealth or good health, the test is how you use it. And if something adverse happens to you, it's still a test. The object for us is to pass all the tests. It's all part of life. There are no formulas for escaping the challenges of life. God said good people will eventually be victorious in this life and the next. Conceptualizing it is easy, living it is a whole other thing. That's part of life, too — implementing the things we claim to understand.

Rabbi Marc Aaron Kline, Temple Adath Israel, Lexington: When we look at the major calamities that have filled our thoughts, one has to wonder how God can "allow" these things to happen and how people can still believe in a goodness that can prevail.

It is easy to place blame; it is not always as easy to see the healing response. Blaming God, though, only serves to either diminish God's goodness or make the accuser sound foolish.

The pain caused by hate stems from what we create, not what God creates. Religious extremists have blamed God for tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes.

My heart and soul, every fiber of my faith, puts God square in the middle of the response that mounts to help recovery. In spite of the ugliness of war and bigotry, people continue to show up, offering love and support, irrespective of national labels, political ideology or religious dogma.

God was with all who risked their lives and dedicated their resources and energy to save afflicted people even (and especially miraculously) though most people who give know none of the people whom they are helping.

Rachael Brooks, New Hope Church, Lexington: An old story about a bookmark beautifully illustrates God's providence: A pastor carried an old woven bookmark with him. On the back side, where all the knots of the threads were tied, everything seemed like a tangled mess. The pastor would show this to people experiencing events that seemed meaningless. Then he would explain that while this was how they were viewing life at the moment, from God's side, all would be made straight. He would then flip the bookmark over so that they could see the neat woven pattern that read, "God is love" on the front side.

When we are fortunate enough to see events from "God's side," we see that he does keep his promises, is sovereign and good, and that he will use even horrific events to exact some fuller good in the end.

Debra Glenn Monck, wife of a minister at Vineyard Community Church, Lexington: Tragedy happens every day, whether thousands are killed at once or one lone child is made to suffer.

One of my favorite hymns is It Is Well With My Soul. The writer, Horatio Spafford, faced intense personal tragedy, yet penned the words, "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul."

Faith in a savior who has overcome death and provides reconciliation to God is what gets us through immense difficulties and times of questioning.

Therese Warrick, Sisters Road to Freedom, Lexington: I say to fellow worshipers that bad things happen to good people because the Bible tells us that as long as we live in this world, bad things will happen.

Even though Jesus Christ was blameless, faultless, sinless, he paid the ultimate price for us so we may receive the free gift of salvation. And if Jesus paid with his life for us, the least I can do is to still praise God when bad things happen to good people.

Pete Hise, Quest Community Church, Lexington: For all the grief, hurt and questions after 9/11, the only solid ground I could stand on was the cross of Jesus Christ.

The cross is the worst injustice our planet has ever seen — the sinless son of God, beaten to a pulp and brutally nailed to a piece of wood. At the cross, Jesus experienced suffering, abuse, pain and abandonment.

Now, because of the cross, anyone who ever finds themselves on those dark roads never has to walk them alone — Jesus understands our anguish and has experienced it himself.

The cross doesn't undo tragedies like 9/11, but it does stand at the center of all of them. Much like the unforgettable image of the steel-beam cross at Ground Zero, the cross stands at the center of all the tragedies of our lives — offering hope, understanding and healing.

Mary Seeger Weese, Midway Presbyterian Church: The long answer to why bad things happen has to do with human choice, genetics, environment, family dynamics, chance, luck, randomness and a multitude of variables beyond our control.

The short answer is that we don't know. We want to know why.

All we can say is that this is not the will of our God, who is love. This breaks the heart of God. Our God never leaves us alone at these times, and God will not allow for these bad things to have the last word.

We only know through our Lord of love, Jesus, that light is stronger than darkness, goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, and life is stronger than death.

Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington: The spiritual lesson we can take from 9/11 is that we need to live our lives in such a way that we make God's kingdom real here on earth. In God's kingdom, love trumps hatred, peace silences war and love of neighbor cancels out fear of the "other."

As believers, we can change this world one person at a time by embodying the message of God's love and peace in this world. Our call is not to live lives of comfort or security, free from the bad things that might happen. Our call is to live lives of faith, trusting that God walks alongside us in both the good and the bad times.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader