For our fellow Americans, and indeed millions more around the world, this weekend marked a somber day of remembrance and reflection twenty years after the heinous terrorist attacks that struck the heart of our country. Destroyed were buildings and airplanes, along with innumerable lives of those who perished, and those left behind to search through the rubble of an uncertain future without loved ones who had been snatched from them.
How many times we have since cried, “Why? Why, Lord?” would be incalculable. Trying to make sense of it all bewilders us. So much that happened is simply beyond the limits of our normal categories.
The following Sunday churches overflowed with people seeking reassurance, seeking community, even seeking answers. Our congregation in Washington, DC found no small comfort in Psalm 46 preached from our pulpit, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved,” and in the hope against hope conviction of that same psalm, “God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.” But the gnawing question still lingered, “What would bring someone—anyone—to plan and carry out such a diabolical and self-absorbed plan against others?”
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah distills the clearest and most concise answer: The human heart is desperately wicked above all things—who can know it? (17:9) Holy Scripture clearly affirms that human beings were created good. We are part of God’s good creation, indeed made uniquely in God’s image, and declared “very good.” But something happened that marred that image, and changed the subsequent course of history: Human disobedience and sin.
It is a biblical given that sin plagues the human race as a corruption of God’s original blueprint, an insidious virus in our spiritual DNA that, apart from God’s power to forgive, transform, and guide, can lead us astray or even control us. It is at the root of all human propensity to think and do evil, spanning the spectrum from the seemingly innocuous “little white lie” to the most insidious megalomania and genocide.
In his great work of religious satire, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes of spiritual warfare seen through the eyes of Screwtape and Wormwood, two conniving and sometimes comical minions of the Devil. By their pernicious bumbling Lewis stands everything on its head: Good is bad and bad is good. God is “the Enemy Above,” while Satan is “Our Father below.” In one letter to his junior assistant, Screwtape effectively sums it all up:
To us a human is basically food; our aim is the absorption of its will
Into ours, the increase of our area of selfhood at its expense. But the
obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing.
One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His
service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere
propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the
universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures
whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like his own,
not because he has absorbed them, but because their wills freely conform
to His. We want cattle who can finally become food. He wants servants
who can finally become sons.[i]
This gracious adoptive process stands as a beacon against the darkness that sin brings—darkness
in the human heart that creeps into every level of human relationship and society, darkness that can bring such horrific destruction that we finally pay enough attention to cry out, “Why? Why, Lord?”
The psalmist writes, “I waited patiently for the Lord: He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (40:1)
God bends to listen as we bow in need and trust. In his almighty mercy, God urges us, “Make the call!”
[i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, New York: HarperCollins (2021): 38-39