LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–As officials continue searching for answers to the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, God is using the tragedy to humble America and remind the nation of its complete dependence on him, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on a radio program the afternoon of the tragedy.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, joined two local pastors on WLSY-FM in Louisville, Ky., to pray for the nation and offer answers and analysis to the day’s events. In an unusual arrangement, the program also was simultaneously broadcast on three of WLSY’s sister stations. Bob Russell, senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church, and Walter Malone, pastor of Canaan Missionary Baptist Church, joined Mohler on the program. Both churches are located in the Louisville, Ky., area.
The three men were invited to the station following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington. The radio panel took phone calls and tackled a gamut of theological and ethical questions, including:
— Should we forgive those who are responsible for the tragedy?
— What should the Christian response be to terrorist acts? Anger? Vengeance?
— Why do such terrible things happen if God is loving?
— Is it a sign of the Christ’s second coming?
— Will those who died without hearing the gospel receive a “second chance”?
Mohler pointed out that although the nation seemed at times to be in chaos Sept. 11, God was still in control.
“One of the things I believe we must keep in mind is that God is on his throne, and that he is the sovereign ruler over all the world,” Mohler said. “God is effecting his will among the nations. The biblical writers, again and again, speak of God in the rising and the falling of nations and of empires. Certainly in the midst of this, we need to be asking the question, what is God doing? I believe he is humbling us. He’s showing our dependence [on him].”
Christians, Mohler said, should respond in many ways. They should have righteous indignation over what has been done but compassion toward those who have suffered.
Righteous indignation “against this is absolutely called for,” he said. “But what makes the Christian gospel distinctively Christian is that that can’t be the last word. Even in this, there is an opportunity to show that the Lord Jesus Christ can demonstrate what it means to be genuinely compassionate, genuinely truthful [and] to reach out to all those families who have lost loved ones and to call us to repentance.”
The panel discussed the proper response of the government and whether a military strike would be biblical. Malone said that Christians should offer forgiveness and should distinguish between justice and vengeance.
“I think there is a difference between seeking justice and seeking vengeance,” he said. “This is not a time to seek vengeance, but certainly we must seek justice. We must be clear that vengeance is not the answer.”
Mohler agreed, saying that Romans 13 — which says that every person is to be subject to the government — demands a righteous response.
“I would argue that the Christian position is neither pacifist nor war-mongering,” he said. “I think war-mongering is obviously sinful because it assumes we can act in the role of God, even when we think it’s for a righteous cause. Pacifism [fails] because it underestimates the power of human sinfulness. … The problem with sin is that if it goes unpunished and if it is allowed to seem to have the victory, it will spread and it will only increase.”
The panel was asked why such terrible things happen if God is loving and good. Calling it the question “that has vexed theologians throughout the centuries,” Mohler said there are two unbiblical responses. One wrong response, he said, is that God is not in control. The second wrong response is that God causes sin and evil.
“In between there, there is the biblical truth that God is sovereign, and … [that] he has given us moral responsibility as his creatures,” Mohler said. “Genesis 3 explains that with sin entering the world not only did judgment come upon us, but death entered our lives, and not only death in our lives but earthquakes and (other) natural disasters.
“It is entirely explained by sin, and that’s why the gospel is in the end the only answer. The United Nations can’t solve this problem. The United States can’t solve this problem. … The only cure to the problem of sin in the human heart is the grace of God demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
One caller asked the panel if those victims who perished without hearing about Jesus would get a second chance to enter heaven.
“With the Bible as our sole authority, the only hope we have in salvation is conscious faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler answered. “There is no biblical back door that is offered about how persons may come to God in faith except through Jesus Christ. Romans 1 says that we are all accountable, that there is no one who is going to be able to say before the throne of God, ‘I didn’t know you, I didn’t know of you and I did not know I was a sinner,’ because that’s revealed to all of us.”
Another caller asked if the tragedy could serve as a sign for Christ’s return.
“We have to be careful not to over-read or to under-read world events in terms of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “The Lord himself said that we need to be watchful of the times and the seasons, and he also said that there will be wars and rumors or wars, [but that] these are not necessarily signs of the last time.
“… The Bible tells us that there will be an increase in wickedness — literally an unleashing of wickedness in the time before the Lord’s return. If this isn’t that kind of wickedness, I don’t know what it is. We’ve got to be very careful not to say, ‘This tells us when the Lord’s going to return.’ We do know this: Today is one day closer to when that will take place, and we need to live in the expectation that it could happen at any moment.”
Russell, who pastors a church of more than 14,000 worshipers, said the tragedy should challenge America to put faith back in the public square.
“When the nation eliminates God from almost every facet of public life, there is a weakening of the nation to the core,” Russell said. “These kinds of events can serve to remind us that we have been on a several-decade-long drift away from God, pridefully saying, ‘Let’s get him out our government buildings, let’s get him out of our schoolhouses, let’s get him out of our everyday life and confine him just to the church building.'”