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
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
Christians are supposed to believe 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
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?