Christians, who since Gutenberg's printing press was up and running in 1445 have accounted for the lion's share of the publishing industry, have been uncharacteristically diffident about the meaning of the 9/11 attacks, except to say that it's not this and it's not that, and to venture generally that we should hate evil and love good. Ever since Jerry Falwell's trip to the woodshed in the first week over unfelicitous correlations with the ACLU, many in the church (called to be light in the world and to speak a word into a lost generation) have imposed on themselves a kind of gag rule, apparently counting it the better part of humility.
To be sure, there has been plenty of pulpiteering from some sectors of Christendom, at memorial services and such, whose content has been deemed by media reasonably tolerable fare for national radio broadcasts: "They can kill us but they can't kill our spirit!"-preachers in the line of Zedekiah son of Kenaanah (1 Kings 22:11) who bravely take positions that everybody agrees with already.
Others, rightfully mindful of the stern censure visited upon Job and friends for "darkening counsel with words without knowledge," are so careful not to "darken counsel" that they do not shed much light at all on this befuddled country. Their selected texts are the ones that best illustrate that, when all is said and done, we cannot know what God is doing and why. The tower at Siloam is regularly adduced to silence speculation about the guilt quotient of disaster victims ("Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!")-though the second half of the verse is rarely mentioned ("But unless you repent, you too will all perish"). The blind man of John 9 goes through his healing endlessly, to show (quite rightly) that disasters do not lend themselves to facile either/or analysis, but that God likely has a "third way" that is wholly unexpected and not divined by human intelligence.
We can do better than that. What if, rather than following the counsel of timidity that says that no perspective is legitimate, we were to take the more sanguine (and more scriptural, I believe) approach that there are many true perspectives on the events that have recently overturned our lives? What if, rather than coming to the world empty, we were to come with an embarrassment of riches?
Red flags will go up here. Multi-perspectivalism will sound to some like good old liberal relativism in new clothes. In the world after Kant, "perspective" will be seen as a Trojan horse for "opinion"-as in the following statement: There is no absolute truth, only "perspective." This could not be further from what I have in mind.
Does 9/11 unmask something true about the hatefulness and mind-blowing absence of love that is a logical endpoint of a religion (Islam) based on works and not grace or mercy? Yes! Does 9/11 also expose the bankruptcy of a religion (American liberal Christianity) based on a
user-friendly God? Yes! Is September 11 a wake-up call to mend the sagging rafters of national defense and see where the walls need mending (Proverbs 27:12,23)? Yes again. Is 9/11 also a warning about spiritual houses built on wobbly foundations that topple when the storm comes? Yes. Is 9/11 a judgment on the American idols of wealth (World Trade Center) and power (Pentagon)? If the shoe fits. Is 9/11 a call to self-examination about where we have placed our trust? Isn't everything? Is 9/11 a call to remember the height from which we have fallen since the days when God was the subject matter of public-school reading primers? Yes. Is 9/11 a call to take another look at the book of "Revelation"? It would be foolish to think otherwise.
The more a person knows about God from His Word, the more (not less!) he will see in 9/11. Rather than theology by negation (i.e., "we can't say this, we can't say that"), why not a more helpful theology of fullness of truth (i.e., "this is there, and that is there too"). Let us not tender the world an empty tin cup when we have for the asking "good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, poured into your lap" (Luke 6:38). Ours is a Spirit of boldness, not timidity, that compels us to speak something-not nothing-into a world that, since Sept. 11, 2001, still picks through the ashes of despondency and stumbles at noon as in the dark.