As Towers Fell, a Question Arose

By Chris Sparks

How could God permit this to happen?

It's a question that has wrung many hearts down across the millennia, and led many to lose their faith.

How could God - good, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God - permit this to happen?

For many of us, that question wrung our hearts on 9/11.

For many of us today, that question wrings our hearts afresh with every new scandal to hit the Church, every day's headlines of unrest at home and abroad, every new development in any one of a number of world-shaking, life-changing, civilization-threatening stories breaking across the world.

How could Jesus, the Divine Mercy, let this happen?

Oh, sure, we all understand that the fall of man means that human beings are wounded somewhere deep inside. We all can appreciate that a God who is Love will create creatures with free will in order to create real persons with truly free wills, and so people who can choose to love and be loved in return. We understand that, given free will, some people can and do use it badly, and so choose to do evil. We get that God thus must permit some of His creatures the chance to have their choices bear real, visible, awful consequences; that we have been given great and terrible gifts, and that, if we use them for evil ends, we all face great and terrible consequences.

Yes, on some level, that all makes sense.

But confronted immediately with the devastation - with collapsing World Trade Center towers on every channel, plumes of smoke erupting from the Pentagon, and a country caught in a moment into a sudden hush, a sudden stillness as all the planes land and all the loved ones try to reach their family, friends, or coworkers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania - as we confront disaster on a world-changing scale, still we must whisper, even if only in our heart of hearts, "Lord, why did You allow this to happen?"

In some ways, to ask such a question is to prove that you have great faith! You believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and earth, and so you know that had He chosen to do so, He could have snatched those hijackers from those planes in a moment.

He could have prevented the tragedy of 9/11.

He could have saved all those people on all those planes.

He could have prevented the destruction of those Twin Towers.

He could have altered the whole course of human history in a moment.

But He didn't.

9/11 happened.

Terrible abuse of children and of the vulnerable happened within the Church.

Evil has happened, and will happen, again and again throughout human history, culminating in the rise of Anti-Christ at the end of the world, a time when the Church will seem to be silent, defeated, dead, save for a remnant, a few prophets, and the last of the hierarchy; a time when evil will seem to have won, or rather when goodness without God will seem to be possible, will seem to be the wave of the future, will seem to be all that there is left for us all here below, here on earth.

Evil has had its say. Evil will have its say.

And then, in the end - at the end of our lives, and at the end of time - God will have His say.

We are all living the life of Job, here below in this valley of tears. Job was a righteous man, says the Scriptures, and one who loved and served the Lord, such that the Lord boasted of His servant Job to the devil. And so the devil asked permission to challenge Job, to test him, and to see whether he would remain faithful when following the Lord meant offering praise and thanksgiving in the midst of misery, rather than plenty. So Job was woefully tested, losing everything - his property; his children; his earthly goods. All that Job had left was his wife, and his heap of ashes, and his sores. He was left with friends who argued that Job must have done something wrong to be so treated by God. He was left with friends who sought to give an account for the actions of God, or who argued that Job must admit his guilt and ignorance, that the ways of God are mysterious, and who are we to question God? And Job persisted in crying out to God, whom he loved.

He persisted in crying out because he had faith. He believed in God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth. He believed in God, the God who is Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Being, and Love. And because he believed, because he loved God, he knew that if all of this was the return on his fidelity to God, then God had some 'splaining to do.

And God showed up. And Job was answered.

Job said, "By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).

Job was answered, not because God went through His reasoning, step by step, to explain to Job why all that had happened had been allowed to take place; not because God restored everything back to Job He had taken away, apologized, and was contrite.

No. God showed up. God spoke to Job. And by God's presence, Job was answered.

And you know what? All those friends whom we would have assumed were especially faithful, because they sought to explain or defend God's actions - well, God didn't see it that way.

God condemned them, saying: "My anger blazes against you and your two friends! You have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job. So now take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves, and let my servant Job pray for you. To him I will show favor, and not punish your folly, for you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job" (Job 42:7-8).

Job was right to complain. He was right to cry out to God for an answer for his sufferings. He was right. And those who tried to excuse or justify the sufferings that had been visited upon Job were wrong.

Ultimately, the mystery of evil is only answered, only overcome, by the even greater mystery of God.

So on this anniversary of 9/11, yet another day in U.S. history that will live in infamy, if you feel moved to whisper, to shout, to rage to God, "Why? How? Where are you? What's going on?" - well, you're in good company. It's not inappropriate. In fact, it may be a sign of more real love and trust from you than all the good explanations in the world of how God could have allowed such evil to take place.

So talk to God. Go before the Divine Mercy Image with your anger, your tears, and your concern for the Church and the world today. Bring God your grief, all of it; your anger, all of it; your pain, all of it. He can take it. He has already borne worse, and been crucified, and risen again. The mystics tell us He saw all the sins of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane, all the sins past, present, and future, and even after that horror, went on to save us all.

Bring everything to God. Trust Him, enough to know that He could have prevented evil, and did not. Love Him, enough to bring to Him your tears and your confusion. And know that He will come, in the end - at the culmination of the Mass in the Eucharist; at the end of your life; at the end of time.

He will come. He will be seen, and heard, and answer.

And every tear will be wiped away, and every knee shall bend, and every head shall bow.

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Mt 5:4).

Chris Sparks is the author of the book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question (Marian Press).

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash



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