It’s been almost 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. This was a devastating and tragic period of time for American history in particular and a widening rift for those most affected, in general. Sermons (such as Carter Conlon’s post-9/11 service), music (Tori Amos wrote “I Can’t See New York” in 2002), and most significantly, popular books (eg., Sam Harris’ End of Faith in 2004) also emerged to bring about a new conversation on fundamentalism, fanaticism, and religion that would later start a whole new breed of secularists. In other words, we would come to see “the decade of atheism.”
Now, I’m not sure why tragedies lead people to unbelief; it’s a strange corollary. From multiple testimonies I have gathered from unbelievers, tragic events seem to be tied one way or another to their disbelief in God. Divorces, death, great misfortune (like Job), suffering, abandonment and betrayal all sit on the shoulders of humanity. Some men are born blind, after all. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1)
God has been approached by the most arduously skeptical and provocative thinkers history has ever seen, I’m sure. Though these men lack the advantage of personal acquaintance, Jesus’ own disciples – his closest followers, friends, and rather highly educated “theologians” – questioned Jesus on one man’s misfortune of having been born blind. Jesus, Lord and philosopher par excellence, answered his disciples:
Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Long story short, the blind man was sent away to wash his eyes and was later able to see (vv. 6-7). Though Jesus knows that his followers are ignorant of God’s overall redemptive plan, He reverts their attention away from one man’s example of worldly misfortune to that same man’s image of redemptive rebirth. This is evidenced by the fact that (a) the man, once blind, “can now see” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4) and (b) that his neighbors do not recognize him as the same man who was begging just a little bit ago.
The Daily News Cover
There are a number of things to comment on with regard to this cover. Apart from other prominent bloggers in the “blogosphere” (Matt Walsh, Lenny Esposito, James Martin, etc.), I suspect I don’t have anything substantial in my deck of cards to deal a blow to the Daily News from my personal computer. However, I do personally think the cover is ignorant and edgy; ignorant because (a) a finite perspective is declaring that God isn’t acting in and through these tragedies and edgy because (b) it’s a message that’s loaded and direct.
The headline is essentially a response to certain presidential candidates (Cruz, Paul and others were mentioned) offering up “thoughts and prayers” for those victimized by either Paris attacks, or other shootings that plague Facebook news feeds. The idea is that Christians (maybe they mean Republicans specifically) are too busy sending up senseless and unpragmatic prayers to an empty (or lazy) heaven. As Voltaire once wrote under the entry ‘Prayer’ in his Philosophical Dictionary (1764):
[W]e pray to God only because we have made Him in our own image. We treat Him like a pasha, like a sultan whom one may provoke and appease. In short, all nations pray to God: wise men resign themselves and obey Him. Let us pray with the people, and resign ourselves with the wise men. (Penguin Books, 178)
There are other rather revealing statements about Voltaire’s attitude towards religion that is echoed in less eloquently but similarly stated outlets such as television, magazines (Daily News, right?), music, and etc. Elsewhere in the same book he writes, “The world is the theater of moral ill and physical ill: We are all only two aware of it, and the ‘Everything is for the best’. . . is only a witty paradox, a rather poor joke” (174).
In other words, suffering is ample ground for a poor soul to show embitterment towards God (Voltaire sure did after the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon). Surely, this poor soul has two options before him: he may either respond with (a) “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15), or respond like Job’s wife: (b) “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) I suspect that the majority of us has fallen – way too short – on this issue (I myself have once eaten my tears, prepared my death bed, cursed God and hoped to die). I suspect that Daily News wants us all to jump ship and choose (b).
The Redemptive Narrative
Christians have not lost sight of the overall redemptive narrative behind tragedies – yesterday, today, and onward – Daily News is fundamentally blind to it. Though no one can say God’s reasons for allowing these events to take place (what man could? see Isaiah 55), we can for sure say that God is not silent or dumb or deaf on these matters. God, though not explicitly or dramatically taking action on those perpetrators to bring them to justice, has made it very clear already in His Word (that is, the Bible) that there are consequences for those practitioners of false religion who twist, corrupt, coerce and deceive others around them.
God has also made it clear – yes, very clear to the point of giving His life – that tragedies do not eliminate the call for personal repentance and the need for God (cf. Luke 13). This is really a tragic mistake that only a newspaper headline could make. In other words (to give it a catchy phrase), God is Fixing Us. The most important transformations that have ever taken place in the history of man always involves a poor sinner’s call for repentance, God’s placing of the Holy Spirit into that sinner, and thus making Him into a “new man.” Do you remember the blind man from John 9 that was mentioned earlier? Well, there it is.
Furthermore, let’s not make this magazine an obstacle for us in distraction. Any controversy in the media is infinitely less controversial than a sinner’s offense to God, and yet, some are made to believe that there is no God to offend. Fair enough.
Sinners must know that tragedies – according to the biblical worldview – are never “senseless.” God, in so far as He is God and is in control (i.e., providential), there is no event in history that stands outside of the redemptive plan. If God did exist, I suspect that secularists should at least concede to this point so far. The difficulty merely lies in the consistency between the existence of evil and the existence of God. After all, if God is in control, whence cometh evil?
From here I think we could proceed to a philosophy of religion which intelligently addresses these questions. The only problem is that sinners are sometimes always looking for those “two cents of reason” in order to appease their relentless questions. What’s more striking for the soul especially is how one’s suffering plays an integral part into one’s growth, maturity and wisdom. Even more, that this wretched soul participates in the “divine life” by being apart of an assembly of believers who are unified for fellowship, manifesting God’s work in the world through their love (cf. 1 Cor. 13) and their service (cf. Col. 4:6).
There is a whole other narrative that we are missing; let’s not get distracted from the prize set before us. Let’s continually grow in heart and mind to discern these issues better. God be with us. Amen.
*The featured photo of this article was taken from http://www.vox.com/2015/12/2/9838968/daily-news-san-bernardino-cover