The staggering loss of life in history’s deadliest terrorist attack was more than double the number of servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor and more than triple the number who perished in the Titanic’s sinking. It claimed more than eight times the lives lost in the previously greatest airline disaster. The United States was plunged into mourning, its sense of security and invincibility shattered. In their anguish millions turned to religion for comfort and solace—and rightly so.
In times like these we naturally wonder how God views such events. They are so remarkable, so powerful, that we’ve devoted this entire issue to answering various aspects of that question.
What would Jesus Christ tell us in the wake of what has happened? He addressed two tragedies of His day that remarkably parallel recent events. Just as America’s disaster involved random murders and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, the tragedies Jesus referred to involved unspeakable brutality and the destruction of a well-known landmark—the tower of Siloam in Jerusalem.
We read in Luke 13 that people told Jesus a shocking story: On the Roman governor’s orders, several men had been brutally murdered while bringing sacrifices to the temple. Jesus’ response should stir us to reevaluate our personal mortality and standing with God: “Do you suppose that, because these Galileans suffered this fate, they must have been greater sinners than anyone else in Galilee? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all of you come to the same end” (Luke 13:2-3 Luke 13:2-3 2 And Jesus answering said to them, Suppose you that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
3 I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
American King James Version×, Revised English Bible). Those who heard Christ’s words couldn’t understand how God could allow such a disaster. In that same way we can scarcely comprehend how God could allow death to descend so suddenly, so brutally, on so many people innocently going about their everyday lives.
Jesus pointed out that no one is immune to the twists and turns of this life. He also made an explicit point that should hit home to us: Unless we repent we are subject to an equally sudden end. Why? Because a close relationship with God is our only reliable source of protection from such disasters. Lest they—and we—misunderstand, Christ reinforced the lesson with another example. “… The eighteen people who were killed when the tower fell on them at Siloam—do you imagine they must have been more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all come to an end like theirs” (verses 4-5, REB).
Untimely deaths such as the murder of the Galileans bringing their sacrifices, Jesus said, were simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The victims of these tragedies weren’t more evil or less evil than others; they were random victims of random events.
They were sinners, however, and—as with all who have not repented of their sins (1 John 1:8 1 John 1:8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
American King James Version×)—their only assured destiny was death (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×). Our position is no different. We may not be the victims of random violence or a collapsing building, but we are sinners, and eventually God will hold us accountable for what we know and do. When we realize that, Jesus’ words should cut to the core of our being: “Unless you repent, you will all come to an end like theirs.”
Knowing that we live in a world in which tragedy can suddenly strike at any time, shouldn’t we heed Christ’s warning to repent and begin aligning our life with His? Indeed, God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30 Acts 17:30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent:
American King James Version×, emphasis added).
Only by surrendering to God—through repentance and living according to His laws—will it be possible for us to gain victory over death and to participate in the coming era when horrors such as that of Sept. 11 will never again be repeated.