Today is the 16th anniversary of what I would call my generation’s Pearl Harbor; September 11, 2001 or better known as 9/11. The day started like any other work day for most of us. I’m sure all of us can give accounts of what we were doing or where we were when you heard the news that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. If you were like me, you were sad and then you got mad. Days after this event, the churches were packed with people. They were looking for answers on why this happened.
Author Peg Rankin and her husband, Lee, witnessed the burning Twin Towers in New York City from their Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, high-rise on that day. Like many, Rankin began to consider the state of evil in our world. What is evil? Why does God allow it? How can we stop it? She went to the Bible for answers and ended up writing her latest book, Making Sense of Evil: 9/11 Eyewitness Finds Answers.
Peg Rankin wrote in her book, “When a tragedy like 9/11 occurs, your mind can drive you crazy…The Bible comes to our aid at times like these, reassuring us that there are no “what ifs” or “if onlys” with God. Whatever happens is part of an ultimate plan. While some people find such a conclusion disturbing, I find it wonderfully liberating. In fact, it is the only thing that sets one free from the bondage of the destructive “what-could-have-beens.”’
Later in her book, Peg Rankin shares a story from a family friend who worked near the World Trade Center. She writes, “Later on, a friend, Rich Immordino, shared with us a unique opportunity he had to testify to his faith that day. It seems that Rich’s office was located in a building near the Twin Towers. When the North Tower was hit, fellow workers crowded around his desk. Together they watched as the ensuing fire exploded into an inferno. And together they commiserated with those who were hanging out of windows crying for help. Everyone felt powerless. Suddenly into their view sped the second airliner. The group looked on in disbelief as the plane took aim at the South Tower and hit its target right on. There was a collective, audible gasp, Rich said. Then one fellow worker, who knew of Rich’s Christian faith, caught Rich’s eye and asked sarcastically, “OK, Mr. Immordino, where is your God now?” “My God is in the same place today that He was in the day His Son died on Calvary’s cross,” Rich answered assuredly. “He’s on His throne in heaven.”’
After the events of September 11, 2001, sermons were preached that said that God could not have stopped this tragedy from happening. I disagree with that assumption 150%. There are 3 Attributes of God that goes against that conclusion. God as being “all knowing (Omniscience)”; God as being “all powerful (Omnipotence)”; and God is present everywhere (Omnipresence). I’ve seen a refrigerator magnet that reads, “Either God is in control or He isn’t.” To me, that says it all. Although events may appear to be spiraling out of control that does not mean that they are. Although evil may seem to have gained the upper hand; that does not mean that it has.
We live on a fallen planet. Ever since man sinned in the Garden of Eden, evil has been part of the curse God pronounced on humanity as a result of that sin. The curse will be with us until the end of time; but only until then. Jesus Christ will one day banish evil. Meanwhile, God has Satan and his cohorts on a lease. They can go only so far. Unfortunately, these evildoers go as far as they can, and they do so every time. One day, however, they will be stopped in their tracks and duly punished for the harm they have done to God’s people (See Isaiah 13:11). It will be a glorious day—a day of righteousness, justice, and truth.
We are talking about God’s sovereignty. He has authority, power, rule, and control over everything that happens in His world. As philosopher Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch of the universe over which King Jesus does not claim.” When the authors of the Bible address God’s sovereignty, they do so with one voice and without wavering. You see, when it comes to the Sovereignty of God, there is no middle ground. As the plaque on my refrigerator says, “Either God is in control or He isn’t.”
The subject of The Sovereignty of God can be a very lengthy series of posts. I will address the subject with regard of the events of 9/11. I will define the term The Sovereignty of God in simple terms.
In order for us to best understand what is meant by any subject, we must first define it. The term Sovereignty of God basically means supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stop His hand or say to Him, “Why are you do this?”
Daniel 4:34-35 has a testimony of one king toward the King;
34 “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can stop His purpose or resist His will. Psalm 115: 3 “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Such is the God of the Bible.
The sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute and infinite. Since God is sovereign, He has the right to govern the universe, which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. He has the right over all things as the Potter over the clay, i.e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, making one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to anyone.
Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is sovereign in all His attributes. He is sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. God is sovereign in the exercise of His mercy. Mercy is directed by the will of Him that shows mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. The objects of mercy are those who are miserable, and all misery is the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms.
God gives His mercy to whom He pleases and withholds mercy as sees good to Himself. A remarkable illustration of this fact is seen in the manner that God responded to the prayers of two men offered under very similar circumstances; Moses and Hezekiah. Sentence of death was given to Moses for one act of disobedience, and he asked God for a reprieve. But his desire was not gratified. He told Israel in Deut. 3:26, “But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter.” The second case deals with Hezekiah; we see in 2 Kings 20:1-6;
“1 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” 2 Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying,
3 “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying,
5 “Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”’
Both of these men had the sentence of death, and both prayed to God for a reprieve: the one wrote: “The Lord would not hear me,” and died; but to the other it was said, “I have heard your prayer”, and his life was spared.
What an illustration and great example of the truth expressed by Paul in Romans 9:15; “For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.”
The sovereign exercise of God’s mercy—pity shown to the sinner—was displayed when Jehovah became flesh and tabernacled or dwelt among men. Another example of The Sovereignty of God deals with Jesus healing a lame man. The lame man came to the Pool of Bethesda, where there were a lot of sick and lame people. Among this group of people, Jesus heals one man. Why was this one man singled out from all the others? We are not told that he cried “Lord, have mercy on me.” There is not a word in the narrative that shows this man possessed any qualifications which entitled him to receive special favor. This was a case of the sovereign exercise of Divine mercy. It would have been easy for Christ to heal the whole group of sick and lame people but He choose to heal one “certain man.” Jesus used His power and relieved the suffering of this one particular lame man, and for some reason known only to Himself, He declined to do the same for the others.
God is sovereign in the exercise of His grace. Grace is favor shown to the undeserving. Grace is the opposite of justice; justice demands the impartial enforcement of the law. Justice requires that each shall receive his legitimate due, neither more nor less. Justice bestows no favors and is no respecter of persons. Justice, as such, shows no pity and knows no mercy. But after justice has been fully satisfied, grace flows forth.
Divine grace is not exercised at the expense of justice, but “grace reigns through righteousness” (Rom. 5:21). Grace can be defined as the unmerited favor of God. That means that no one can claim it as their inalienable right. If grace is unearned and undeserved, then no one is entitled to it. If grace is a gift, then no one can demand it. Therefore, as salvation is by grace, the free gift of God, then He bestows it on whom He pleases. Because salvation is by grace, the very chief of sinners is not beyond the reach of Divine mercy. Because salvation is by grace, boasting is excluded and God gets all the glory.
The sovereign exercise of grace is illustrated on nearly every page of the Bible. The Gentiles are left to walk in their own ways, while Israel becomes the covenant people of Jehovah. Ishmael the firstborn is cast out relatively unblessed, while Isaac the son of his parents’ old age is made the child of promise. Esau the generous-hearted and forgiving-spirited is denied the blessing, though he sought it carefully with tears, while the worm Jacob receives the inheritance and is fashioned through trials into a vessel of honor.
So in the New Testament; Divine truth is hidden from the wise and prudent, but is revealed to babes. The Pharisees and Sadducees are left to go their own way, while publicans and harlots are drawn by the cords of love.
When it comes to The Sovereignty of God, Charles Spurgeon is quoted in saying;
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought to more earnestly contend to than the doctrine of their Master over all creation–the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands–the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne…for it is God upon the Throne whom we trust.
We just looked at the Cliffnotes version of what the definition of “The Sovereignty of God.” We can spend weeks on the definition alone, but how did The Sovereignty of God have anything to do with 9/11? Since we know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and is all-present, He could have prevented 9/11 from happening. For His own reason, He did not prevent it.
As bad as the event of 9/11 was, the fact that things could have been worse. As far as the collapse of the Twin Towers is concerned, 15,000 people did manage to get out alive. While this statistic does little to relieve the pain of the families of the 2807 individuals who were crushed, it does show that there was a divine restraint on evil that day. It makes one wonder what the day would have been like without God’s restraining hand.
Tragedies also serve as reminders that our days are numbered. According to reports from churches, people did put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of 9/11. Others, sadly, did not. In fact, many are still ignoring the warning to repent of their sins and let God change their lives.
So what is the bottom line? Does evil reign on planet Earth? Absolutely not!
The sovereign Lord reigns on planet Earth. This is His world, created by His grace, existing for His purposes. Are we to ignore the evil we see around us then? No. For even though Christ won the battle against evil on the cross, Satan is a real and present danger. He fights on. In the end, however, we know who comes out on top. It is God.