Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, Part One

    In the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was a well-publicized spike in attendance at religious services. This spike, and other events, led columnist Peggy Noonan to declare in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that "God is back." A year later, the question is "was she right?" As a recent episode of PBS's Frontline reported, the events of last September forced many Americans to consider some difficult questions -- questions that were not about "politics, military strategy, or homeland security." They were not even about personal safety. As Frontline's "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero" put it, the questions were about God, the reality of evil, and the role of religion in our lives -- questions many Americans have worked overtime to avoid. The horror of what people saw and, in some cases, experienced personally left them questioning God's goodness and even His existence. A widow of a fireman told of how losing her husband of thirty-five years left her unable to speak to God. She couldn't understand how the God who created so much beauty could also "turn [her husband] into bones." Other survivors saw their faith shaken but managed to hold on. A retired fireman, who lost his son and at least thirty co-workers, told Frontline "[God] had nothing to do with this," and he was grateful that more lives were not lost. A security guard who survived the collapse of the towers spoke for many people when he talked of "cursing" and "losing respect" for the God he had believed in. The way in which thousands lost their lives left him thinking of God as a "barbarian," someone he could no longer love. As unsettling as comments like these can be, they represent an important opening for the gospel and the Christian worldview. After years of indifference and complacency, Americans are finally asking themselves important questions -- good. Luther said the person angry at God was closer to Him than the one who ignored Him. The questions being asked present an opportunity for us to give the reasons for the hope which is within us, as the Apostle Peter wrote. Many Christians over the years have turned away from tough questions about pain and evil, but we must not avoid them -- there are good answers. The evil was perpetrated by men, not by God. Yes, God could have stopped them, but that would have violated our free will and turned us into robots. Taking advantage of the opening would also involve explaining that Christian hope doesn't mean things will always turn out as we expect or desire. Rather, it means that God settled the scores for us, even though there is evil in the world, by paying the price on the cross. And because of the resurrection, we have a hope: Good, in the end, overcomes evil. There are other questions that Christians must be prepared to address, especially ones about the role of religion in public life. That will be the subject of tomorrow's BreakPoint. Please be sure to read it. September 11 was a horrific tragedy, but it has got people asking good questions. And the good news is that we have very good answers indeed. For further reading: BreakPoint's "9/11 Worldview Resource Kit" answers questions many Americans are asking. It includes Timothy George's book Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, Chuck Colson's When Night Fell on a Different World: How Now Shall We Live?, and a "BreakPoint Weekend Special" CD including two interviews with Chuck Colson recorded after September 11 and a year later. Read more about the PBS program "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." Ted Olsen, "Weblog: PBS Examines 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero'," Christianity Today, 3 September 2002. Peggy Noonan, "God is Back," Wall Street Journal, 28 September 2001. Michael Novak, "The Day the World Changed," National Review Online, 10 September 2002. William Bennett, "Teaching about September 11," Wall Street Journal, 10 September 2002. Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, The Problem of Evil (Tyndale House, 1999). "Half of All Adults Say Their Faith Helped Them Personally Handle the 9-11 Aftermath," Barna Research Online, 3 September 2002. Colleen Carroll, "Seekers under the Radar," BreakPoint Online, 18 June 2002.


Chuck Colson


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