Wounded Worshippers: Learning to Embrace the Full Counsel of God

Sept. 11, 2001, was a Tuesday. The reason I know this to be true – without even bothering to look at a calendar – is because I attended another week of Discovery Class at The Crossing that evening. Back then, we met on Tuesday evenings at the church offices, located in some well-used commercial space near the intersection of Old 63 and Stadium Boulevard. Just as we had done in the weeks leading up to 9-11, the Discovery Class – about two dozen of us – munched pizza, drank sodas and spent a couple of hours going deeper into God’s Word and how its interpretation would influence our decision to become a covenant member of The Crossing…or not.

Was I the only person in the room on that evening who felt something of a disconnect? Probably not, but I kept my mouth shut and did my best to listen carefully.

Like most everyone else, I was at work when the World Trade Center towers in New York were both hit by commercial airliners – loaded with human beings and jet fuel – and Flight 93 went down in rural Pennsylvania. We now know that close to 3,000 people perished in the attacks of that day. Nothing can erase the remembrance of that sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched the first tower fall on live cable TV. It’s one thing to watch from a distance as a building collapses in a controlled demolition, but it’s something else altogether to realize what was happening to living, breathing human beings trapped in stairwells or on the upper floors as those massive structures buckled and fell.

I suppose it would have made perfect sense to me, at the time, had The Crossing notified everyone signed up for membership classes that the pastors and elders had decided to postpone for at least one week. But that didn’t happen, and any temptation I might have had back then to chalk this decision up to any sort of “insensitivity” quickly vanished. In fact, the decision to hold membership classes on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, taught me something immensely valuable about Who God is, who we are, and how the two come together…a lesson that has only been reinforced several times in my own life since that day of unspeakable loss.

Emotions can run understandably high whenever the topic of the 9-11 attacks is discussed, and I want to be particularly sensitive to the good, right and godly grieving for all those who died on that day, as well as their friends and loved ones who have had to endure the loss most deeply. Words are wholly inadequate to describe the millions upon millions of events that were set into motion by the events of that day, as well as the millions upon millions of smaller, personal events that would never occur in the face of such sudden devastation. Graduations, birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinners not attended…the myriad ways in which those whose lives ended ten years ago would be missed in their absence, day after day after day.

And yet, there we were, at The Crossing offices in Columbia, opening our Bibles, paging through the handouts, and discussing the proper application of Christian doctrine to the business of everyday living. What I came to realize over the course of those two hours (and in the 10 years since) is that my ill-informed ideas about how God works in our lives needed drastic revision. We weren’t callously meeting in spite of the violence and bloodshed taking place in our own backyard, oblivious to the truths of suffering, human evil and mass murder. We were meeting precisely because of the violence and bloodshed, fully aware of man’s ability to wipe out human life and cause chaos and destruction.

The Bible, the very Word of God, does not blink in the face of human evil and suffering. From a biblical perspective, then, the more-insightful question is never, “Why did God allow 9-11 to happen?” The more thoroughly-biblical question, perhaps, would be, “Given how we have so horribly rebelled against God, why aren’t massive, tragic events such as 9-11 happening every single hour of every single day?” Yes, it took a lot of time, questioning, and careful study for me to arrive at that alternate worldview, but I had help getting there. For example, I once heard John Piper preach a sermon in which he expressed his utter astonishment to wake up morning after morning, throw open the drapes, and discover that the entire city of Minneapolis had not gone up in flames…such is the love, patience and longsuffering of our Creator God. Such thinking, however, is not a paradigm shift that comes naturally to sinful, self-righteous human beings.

In light of the events of 9-11, an entire nation is confronted with questions about the meaning we ascribe to human life, our place in God’s universe and what (if any) redemptive purpose can possibly come from the tragedies we watch play out on our monitor screens day after day. In more honest moments, even the most cynical atheist among us can admit that we cannot even begin to attach meaning of any kind to the tragic events that dominate our lives absent a larger framework, an ultimate purpose beyond death, i.e. God. Absent God, life really is just a random series of events, with no overarching storyline, and with no ultimate meaning: “Live today or die today…the pitiless universe does not concern itself with either outcome.” Forget that this sentiment finds no place to perch within the deeper longings of the human heart…it is just plain unliveable.

Bringing it down to a more personal level, the Fall of 2001 also is memorable for me because of the baptism ceremony that took place in November at the Performing Arts Center inside Rock Bridge High School. It was there that Pastor Keith Simon poured baptismal water on the head of my seven-year-old daughter, and then my two-year-old, marking them as “set apart” for God’s Kingdom. In light of present realities in the lives of all members of my blended family, I can honestly say that – thus far – the events of that day don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I want to be clear – I know that the sacrament of baptism does nothing to “save” anyone, that it is instead a symbol of what we are committing to in our walk of faith. But at this particular point in time, as I look back, I confess that the puzzle pieces have not all come together, at least not yet, in a way that I fully understand. And so, I am faced with a decision: Will I trust in the Lord with all my heart, give all of my earthly children over to His care, and pray for His will to be done, whatever the cost? Or will I instead look back on that moment and wonder if God really showed up on that day and/or be tempted to think that He has not been faithful in some way?

I want to say that the pastors and elders at The Crossing made the faithful, exactly-right decision to go ahead with membership classes on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. In the face of tremendous evil, nothing could possibly be more important than providing hope and encouragement that has its only eternal anchor in the Person of Jesus Christ. And I also want to affirm that God never, ever “looks away” or is “busy doing other, more important things” when a sinful father repents – an ongoing process, to be sure – and dedicates the lives of two precious young girls to His good care. I know (and accept) that Jesus loves all of my children far better than I ever will. This side of Heaven, it is completely beyond any of us to know the whys and wherefores of God’s good plan for all of humanity…for those hundreds of terrified people trapped in doomed airliners, for the soldiers deployed to wars on foreign soil in response, or for two small girls getting cold water splashed on their heads in a high school auditorium. Whether we personally rejoice or grieve at the events playing out in our midst, the one response to God that is always right on target is awe-filled worship.

Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Isaiah 46:8-11 (ESV)
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

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