September 11 marks a date now embedded into our national identity. Seven years ago the attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center forever changed the landscape of America, and today the scars and memories are still searingly fresh.
That infamous morning in 2001, while the news outlets bombarded us with live footage and eyewitness accounts, I remember thinking, “This isn’t happening.” My feelings of helplessness were merely a microcosm of what the country felt. . It seemed like in that brief moment, the traditional objectivity that news anchors adhere to was cast aside and their hearts were exposed. While flipping through the channels, phrases such as “God bless you” or “Our prayers go out to you” flowed. There were no adequate words for this catastrophic event, but these anchors were clearly reaching.
After the smoke cleared, I found myself going back to the statements made by the news anchors. It occurred to me that while many people say the existence of evil is the most convincing evidence against the existence of God, when evil acts actually occur, many individuals revert to using religious language. Why is this? What causes this contradiction?
We are wired to think that even though evil is prevalent in this world, it’s not supposed to be this way. We have an ingrained feeling that something is off and that what we see around us today isn’t what was intended. Deep inside, we suspect we are not meant to live in a hopeless world. Philosophically speaking, this way of thinking would be considered by some to be some sort of existential cowardice. Philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzche and Jean-Paul Sartre would tell us to suck it up, that this life is all you get, so deal with it. To these philosophers, Christianity is the ultimate psychological crutch.
However, when evil occurs, it seems that Christians and non-Christians alike find it difficult to deal with—we naturally hope, like St. Teresa of Avila, that “pain is never permanent.” So when instances of evil are out of our control, such as 9/11, we instinctively turn to spirituality to alleviate this feeling of helplessness because good has to triumph over evil. There is no other alternative for us.
In the end, God will return to eradicate evil and set up a new earth under His rule. This is what made the cross bearable. Christ “endured the cross, scorning its shame” with the view that this would be the act that would make the new earth possible (Hebrews 12:2, TNIV). What drove Christ to suffer evil? Among other things, hope. Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus humbled Himself and shared humanity with us, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Clearly, Jesus held the confident hope that His perfect humility would result in the greater good.
It is this same kind of hope that drives the human soul. Being created in the image of God, we’ve inherited it. We bear up under pain in hope of deliverance in little ways throughout our lives.
For example, people flock to the gym in droves and endure the suffering of working out with the hope that they will fit into that size-4 dress or look good at the beach.
College students continually sacrifice relationships and precious sleep with the hope that they will attain the grades they need to get their diplomas, achieve their dream jobs and get their parents off their backs.
Parents sacrifice money, time and sanity to provide and care for their children with the hope that they will have successful lives, leave a legacy and not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation.
Undoubtedly, hope drives us.
So when evil occurs that men can’t fix, we naturally think that there’s a power out there that’s greater than us who is able to right this wrong. This evil drives us to recognize our helplessness and forces us to see that we all are a part of something infinitely bigger than ourselves.
And, in the end, the greatest hope will always be that “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).