To my grandparents, the question was “Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?” To my parents, it was “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” For my generation, it had been “Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up?” The question for all of us now, unfortunately, is “Where were you on 9/11?” Nine years ago two worlds collided in gruesome fashion. Those two worlds have collided before and the colliding continues, to the horror of everyone, or at least almost everyone, involved. If anyone thought evil didn’t exist, the events of September 11th, 2001 erased that delusion.
“The greatest single argument against the existence of God is the presence of evil in the world, and to the degree that the Christian faith attempts to answer it, its answer is all tied up in this. The argument is simply stated: If there is a God who is both good and all powerful, why do terrible things happen in the world? Why does God allow us to murder and wage wars? Why does He allow us to remain indifferent to each other’s needs so that the poor go uncared for and children starve and in a sense all of us go hungry if only for the peace and understanding that the world cannot give? If there is a God, why did He not with His great goodness make things right in the first place, or why does He not with His great power intervene in the affairs of the world to make things right at least in the second place, now?”1 Why, why does He allow such horror to creep into the lives of countless people, innocent people, at the hands of so few?
“What Christianity in effect seems to say is that God could presumably do these things – could have turned us out perfectly as an inventor turns out a perfect invention or could step in when we get out of line and move us around like pawns on a chessboard. But as Christianity understands it, God does not want us to relate to Him as an invention to an inventor or pawns to a cosmic kibitzer. He wants us to relate to Him as children are related to their father. He wants us in other words to love Him, and if our love is spontaneous and real, we must be free also not to love Him with all the grim consequences of human suffering. Evil exists in the world not because God is indifferent or powerless or absent but because man is free, and free he must be if he is to love freely, free he must be if he is to be human.”2
This is the great truth about God that Islam either missed or got horribly wrong. Islam subjugates love for obedience, obedience to a god that looks nothing like Christ, because the Muslim god does not love in his nature. “Desist for your own good,” wrote Mohammed, do not believe that god has a son. “God is one God, utterly remote is he, in his glory, from having a son.”3 And so “out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns,” came the lonely god, that utterly remote, unknowable, despotic god. That god, that Allah, has no son, and so he desires not love from his subjects, but rather cold obedience.
In Christ we find obedience, yes, but Christ’s obedience was not cold but rather fiery; the obedience of the Christian, then, is an obedience that starts in the gut rather than in the head, an obedience rooted in love and lived out in passion, passion for God and passion for our neighbor.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way saying that to be Muslim is to be evil; misled, certainly, but not deserving of anything except to be shown the love of Christ, to be told the good news of God’s work in sending Jesus that all of us need to be told and retold. Evil exists in this world because we are free to choose it and so we do; we choose the easy evil over the tended good. So let us remember today those men and women who have chosen the good the good. Let us remember those who chose the good despite the cost, whose obedience to their calling was worked out in love and lived out with passion; let us remember those men and women throughout the centuries, and especially on 9/11, who laid down their lives so that others may live; and let us remember Christ our God, by whose Cross and passion we can have lives worth laying down in the service of others.
1Buechner, Frederick, The Faces of Jesus, 19-20.