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The news report on my car radio announced that the towers had fallen and that there was further mayhem at the Pentagon. I didn’t believe it. I assumed this was a millennial sequel to Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds. Such is the nature of denial. . . .

Clarity came when I walked into the denominational building. My colleagues from all the CRC agencies were huddled together in fervent prayer. This was no cleverly improvised media melodrama but the sudden rending of a security blanket I never even knew was wrapped around me—the naïve notion that “it couldn’t happen here.” It did.

Five years later I still can’t get my head around it. I’m stuck with scattered thoughts and ragged emotions.

  • I’m still so, so angry at those theological imbeciles who think Allah so weak and stupid that he needs their ilk to visit divine vengeance on others and at the cost of so many innocents whom they write off as “collateral damage.” If heaven needs to inflict devastation, let’s trust God’s omnipotence to take care of it. Repeating “Allah Akbar” (“God is great”) 10 times as you dive a plane into the Pennsylvania dirt isn’t the tiniest bit convincing that you really trust in God’s greatness—much less God’s mercy and forgiveness.
  • It warmed my spirit to see a powerful nation pause in its pain and find solace in God—if even for a moment. And it lifted my heart to witness my fellow Canadians so warmly embrace stranded U.S. travelers. As a kindly received resident alien down here in the States, that was awesome.
  • My conscience still niggles at me though I try to suppress it. Western society, from which I’ve so willingly benefited in the Netherlands, Canada, and now the U.S., has “sown the wind” for generations—politically, economically, and socially. As our civilization “reaps the whirlwind,” what exactly does my citizenship in God’s kingdom require of me?
  • I appreciate and pray for those who work to keep us safe. But despite their diligence, they cannot do it—never have, never will. True safety lies only in the One who is our comfort in life and in death. So what’s our more urgent calling as God’s people: to demand full protection against terrorists who kill their thousands or to demand that we address poverty and pandemics that daily kill their tens of thousands? What would Jesus do in a world that sees a repeat of 9-11 carnage not yearly or daily but hourly?

Five years. We still struggle to make sense out of the senseless. With all that’s happened in between I’ve extricated only one unambiguous lesson: More than ever we need to inundate the world with the good news that God isn’t just great because he can deal crippling blows on humankind. His greatness is immeasurably amplified by his astounding love through which he gave his only Son to absorb all God’s righteous wrath on our behalf.

Only where God’s love and justice embrace in Christ do we experience true shalom/salaam. Only at the cross can we honestly confess: “Allah Akbar.”

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