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When Worlds Collide, Pt. 1

R.C. Sproul


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One of the things that I am grateful for as a consequence of the tragedy that befell the United States on 9/11 is something we began to hear on television. Suddenly it was politically acceptable for the media to speak of real, objective evil. Indeed, when I watched the buildings implode, I knew we had marked a turning point of moral relativism in American history. The events of 9/11 were a mortal blow to relativism, because the response of Americans and the response of people the world over, after looking at this heinous attack on human life, was the very “unrelativistic” declaration that “This is evil.”

Recently I saw that same affirmation made by a national news service, where a headline bulletin on the screen pro- claimed, “The end of moral relativism.” One cannot have such a shocking encounter with pure evil and walk away, saying, “Well, it’s a relative thing.”


We witnessed on 9/11 the absolute wickedness of an assault on human life. We also saw, with the implosion of those buildings, the practical end of macroevolution as a defining theory for the human species. Who really believes anymore that mankind is merely a grown-up germ? Who believes anymore that we are nothing but cosmic accidents emerging fortuitously from the slime and destined for annihilation? If we truly believe that, when we see pictures of thousands of people destroyed by an act of violence, it should merely make us yawn. The mass destruction of grown-up germs who have no eternal significance is no more important than going into our yard and using a cherry bomb to blow up an anthill.

But every human being in America knows that he or she is not an ant. Every person on this planet knows that he or she is not a germ. We all know that human life is sacred and that human life is meaningful, which it could not be if there were no purpose for human existence, as macro- evolutionists believe.

If God does not exist, there is no purpose to human existence. We would be, as Jean-Paul Sartre said, nothing more than a “useless passion.” But if we understand the existence of God and relate our own existence to His existence, we know that every human life is of great value. We know that human life matters. We know that it matters ultimately that human beings were murdered in the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon and on the four planes that went down on that day.

Wars—such as America’s war on terrorism—are provoked in the final analysis by the conflict of ideas, that war begins in the mind, and hostilities break out when people come to different conclusions on how to live and how to function. We have also seen the erosion of the importance of the concept of divine providence to even the Christian church in our day. Few Christians today understand the historic doctrine of divine providence, and fewer still understand that God is sovereign over evil as well as good.


I have noticed, as the media describe the events of September 11, 2001, that they use words such as “catastrophe” or “calamity” to describe that day. One word I hear per- haps more often than any other is “tragedy.” I am especially concerned when the events of that dark day are described as a “senseless” tragedy. If we look closely at the phrase, it becomes obvious that “senseless tragedy” is an oxymoron. It is a self-contradictory statement, a phrase that makes no sense. For something to be defined as “tragic” there first must be some standard of good for it to be deemed tragic over against. But if things happen in a way that is “sense- less,” there cannot be anything that is either a tragedy or a blessing. Each event would simply be meaningless.

The word “tragedy” presupposes some kind of order or purpose in the world. If the world has purpose and order, then all that occurs in it is meaningful in some respect. The idea of a “senseless tragedy” represents a worldview that is completely incompatible with Christian thought. It assumes that something happens without purpose or with- out meaning. If God is God and if He is a God of providence, if He is truly sovereign, then nothing ever happens that is ultimately senseless. Things may appear to be with- out purpose or meaning. Their ultimate purpose might elude us for the present. Yet if we fail to see purpose in what happens, we must remember that our view of things is limited by our earthly perspective.

An important slogan in theology is finitum non capax infiniti. This means that “the finite cannot grasp the infinite.” The limit of our comprehension is the earthly perspective. We do not have the ability to see things sub specie aeternitatis—“from the eternal perspective.”
The eternal perspective belongs to God. He is the infinite One, whose understanding is likewise infinite. If God is truly sovereign—if He rules over all things—then nothing that ever happens is senseless. Events can be senseless only if: 1) God is not sovereign over them; or 2) He Himself is senseless. What would be truly senseless is a view of God that regards Him either as not sovereign or as senseless.


The distinction between short-term and long-term evaluation of events also demands a differentiation between participants. For Judas, the cross was not the financial boon he had expected. For him it was a genuine tragedy. In all probability it was tragic in the final analysis for people like Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas. Yet for all down through the ages who have put their trust in Jesus, the cross is their highest blessing as it turns Black Friday into Good Friday.

OPEN VERSE IN BIBLE (nlt) summarizes it beautifully:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
This verse is not merely a biblical expression of comfort for those who suffer affliction. It is far more than that. It is a radical credo for the Christian worldview. It represents the absolute triumph of divine purpose over all alleged acts of chaos. It erases “misfortune” from the vocabulary of the Christian.

God, in His providence, has the power and the will to work all things together for good for His people. This does not mean that everything that happens to us is, in itself, good. Really bad things do happen to us. But they are only proximately bad; they are never ultimately bad. That is, they are bad only in the short (proximate) term, never in the long term. Because of the triumph of God’s goodness in all things, He is able to bring good for us out of the bad. He turns our tragedies into supreme blessings.

Because of this truth, we are confident that in the ultimate sense there are no senseless tragedies for the believer. However, the other side of the coin is indeed grim. Just as there are no ultimate tragedies for the believer, so for the impenitent unbeliever there are no ultimate blessings. Every good gift God bestows upon the wicked, for which the wicked do not glorify God or acknowledge His good- ness with gratitude and worship, becomes a tragedy. The more gifts God gives that are despised by the recipient, the more guilt is incurred, so that, to the wicked, on Judgment Day the gifts of God’s kindness become tragedies.

On 9/11, Christians perished. On 9/11, impenitent unbelievers perished. The former were ushered into the presence of Christ. The latter were sent into outer darkness.

One of the pilots whose plane was flown by the terrorists into the World Trade Center was a Christian. I don’t know about the other crew members. I know about this pilot because he was a student of mine at Ligonier Ministries. He is mourned by his family and friends. I grieve over his death. But as we weep at our loss, we know that for him it was gain.

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About The Author


Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder of Ligonier Ministries and the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul has produced more than 300 lecture series and has recorded more than 80 video series on subjects such as the history of philosophy, theology, Bible study, apologetics, and Christian living.