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There is nothing like a crisis to really focus the mind on the things that matter. Flying back from Russia to the States on September 11, 2001, I was caught high above the Atlantic when the planes hit their targets. And we, the world, entered the new normal. In that moment, I had every reason to revisit my faith in a hurry and decide whether I believed what I believed! Was God on my plane? Did He fly United? Or was He attending to some universal business in another sphere? Did He miss the incident altogether and have to wait to see it on network news?
At times like this we know we should have faith that God is on His throne, thoroughly cognizant and in charge, undisputed King of the universe. But if we are honest, at times like this we struggle with our faith.
Where was God on September 11, when the planes struck the twin towers and the Pentagon, and nose-dived into a field in Pennsylvania? Since that momentous event, and despite new and horrible cover stories of atrocities all over the world, people all are still asking that question. Where was God that day? The world was stunned by the terrorism that changed our lives forever. Christians found their faith put to the test. I was no exception.
Christians are supposed tobelieve that they know what God is about-in general, that is! When a 9/11 happens, we're thrown off. I thought I believed in God's power and ever-present presence with all my heart! But did I still believe it that terrible day, when the sun stopped shining and everyone was told to get out the emergency card (the one no one bothers reading on "ordinary" flights!) from the seat pocket in front of them?
In former times, when crisis hit, I was able to fix my heart on what I know about God. As a child, I lived through the Second World War, and as an adult I weathered the doctor's death sentence when my father and mother were diagnosed with terminal cancer. I also struggled through difficult adjustments as we left our homeland and emigrated to another culture, where we raised our children. I suppose I have had my share of critical moments that one would experience when he or she lives in a fallen world among fallen people with a fallen nature.
But the Bible has led me to believe that though I may be out of control, God isn't. He hasn't abdicated, isn't on vacation, and hasn't left town. He hasn't abandoned the universe. He hasn't lost His touch and isn't traumatized by any events on earth. He isn't in therapy and hasn't retired. He's alive and well, and He reigns supreme, indisputable King of kings and Lord of lords.
As the book of Revelation tells us, He is the first and the last and everything else in between. "'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Revelation 1:8). I had done moderately well with this in the past-especially where flying was concerned-but this 9/11 trauma was a new test for me.
I revisited the days in my mind when I found it well-nigh impossible to get myself on a plane at all. I had flown little when we immigrated to America in 1970. I would try not to look out of the window and would select a seat toward the front of the plane by an emergency exit. One day, I had to travel to Los Angeles from Wisconsin. (I was to speak at an important gathering on the subject of faith, if you can believe it!) Sitting in my seat, my heart pounding, I reviewed my notes. I couldn't concentrate, as it was a windy day and a rough flight. How can I dare get off this plane and talk about trusting God? I asked myself.
Sitting there miserably, I shut my eyes and asked the Lord to give me some word of comfort. Nothing came. Okay, I thought, then what word of comfort from the Scriptures has He given me already? Sometimes we look to God for some new word or experience when all the time "the word is near"-even in our hearts (Romans 10:8; Deuteronomy 30:14). A well-known and loved Scripture came to mind in that moment as if it had been waiting patiently for its cue to walk onto the stage of my life. "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). What would be the reward of my earnest heart's cry? I was to discover a peace that wouldn't quit and that flooded my heart and soul and left me gasping with grace. I settled back into my seat as Grace graced me, and I knew that this battle was over (till the next time).
On September 11, God reminded me of that particular truth I had laid up in my heart years before. Like a squirrel in winter, I unearthed the fruit of knowledge laid away for such a time as this, and it nourished my soul. The pilot came on the intercom and told us there was a national emergency and that all the airspace and borders of the United States were closed-but he couldn't tell us why until he got the plane down in Newfoundland. And I sat my soul down and asked sternly, "What do you believe about what you believe, Jill? Has the character of God suddenly changed? Is Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever? Do I really believe that 'God is'?" My soul assured me firmly that I really did believe that He doesn't change.
Whatever shakes my world cannot shake His. He cannot be shaken. He is never caught off guard. He cannot be moved. He has not suddenly become subnormal or abnormal. He wasn't either the old normal or the new normal that terrible day when death intruded into our happy little world and reminded us that life is brief, a mere wisp of a thing, a passing sigh. God's supernormal reality remains intact, even when everything else is falling apart. He's then, now, and always supernormal. He was who He was, and is who He is, and will be who He will be. He promised. And "God is not a man, that he should lie" (Numbers 23:19). What's more, as Job acknowledged, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:1-2).
Some of you have no argument with all of this, except perhaps to wrestle with the idea that God's plan could permit a 9/11 to happen when He had the power to stop it. You have said to me, "Jill, I believe He is who He says He is. Unbelief isn't my problem. It's not 'who' He is, but 'where' He is, or rather where He 'was' or 'wasn't' on 9/11 or some other dark, terrible day of my life that bothers me. Was He sleeping on the job?" C. S. Lewis says: "We talk of him loudly as if He is present, but secretly we think of him as being absent." In my head I thought of Him as being present on September 11, but in my heart I wasn't so sure I could put it all together.
Secretly (for we pride ourselves on being card-carrying Christians who would never have a question like this) some of us are tempted to think He went AWOL. And that would be understandable-He's very busy! Well, that doesn't sound right either, does it? In the end, it depends on whether your beliefs affect your reaction to the unpleasant surprises that life throws at you-or whether He can calm your beating heart and hush your fears to sleep.
Why Doesn't He Do Something?
The problem with 9/11 experiences is that we are tempted to believe that if we do not see Him take action, He mustn't have been there at all. After all, if He had been, He surely would have intervened-like Superman. Why didn't He swoop out of the skies and catch those planes before they hit their targets? Why didn't He stop it from happening? This is our true dilemma. How can we believe He was there-and sat on His hands?
But the thing is, He isn't Superman-He is Super God! So much the better!
Today in America military families are asking these same questions. Why didn't He stop the grenade in Afghanistan or defuse the fatal bomb in Iraq? Our church asked the agonizing question, "Was He asleep on the day two of our missionaries were walking to work in Uganda and wicked men came out of the jungle and murdered them?" What about the tsunami in Asia? An act of God, so they say.
Or coming nearer to home, what about the twelve-year-old who got lost in the mountains, never to be found, or the child raped and killed in my home state? Wasn't He there? Didn't He care?
Why, oh why, didn't He do something?
Excerpted from THE NEW NORMAL by JILL BRISCOE Copyright © 2005 by Jill Briscoe. Excerpted by permission.
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