Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
The abundance of suffering in the world
is plain from the experience of man and from the Word of God. And
at the center of suffering is the cross of Christ - both in New
York and in the Bible. On September 11 last year, 2,823 people died
in the collapse of the World Trade Towers. And on that day at least
35,000 people died of starvation. Eight months earlier near Bhuj,
India, 20,005 people died in the deadliest earthquake of 2001.
A total of 2,400,000 people died in the United States that year.
In round numbers that means 700,000 from heart disease; 550,000
from cancer; 160,000 from stroke; 120,000 from chronic respiratory
disease; 93,000 from accidents; 68,000 from diabetes; 67,000 from
pneumonia; 49,000 from Alzheimer's; 41,730 in car wrecks; and
15,000 from murder.
And America is only 5% of the world's population. About
56,000,000 people died on this earth in 2001. In Africa one million
children died of malaria, that year, 2,379 a day, while 2,300,000
million African people died of AIDS.
That's just one year. Seven years earlier during one month -
April, 1994 - Hutu radicals killed 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda. Fifty
years earlier 500,000 American soldiers died during World War II,
while in Russia 20,600,000 people lost their lives, including
7,000,000 civilians. And if we go back 140 years, we remember that
in the Civil War 618,000 Americans were killed.
We know this sad story from experience and from God's Word. Not
only does the Bible describe a flood that wiped out the earth's
population, and battles where 100,000 and 185,000 men perished (1
Kings 20:29; Isaiah 37:36), and an epidemic that killed 70,000
Israelites (2 Samuel 24:16), and coming wars and earthquakes and
famines (Matthew 24:7), but it also describes the origin of these
calamities. "Sin came into the world through one man, and death
through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned"
This does not mean that there is a direct correlation between
specific personal sins and a person's suffering and death. The best
people often die hard, and the worst die easy. It means that sin is
more repugnant in the universe than suffering and death, and that
God subjects the world to the futility of natural dysfunction and
moral collapse to show us the horror of sin and point us to the
Savior he has sent. This is the meaning of Romans 8:20, "The
creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of
him who subjected it, in hope."
Surely, in God's minute and merciful providence,
the steel cross standing erect in the rubble of the World Trade
Towers is a reminder that "we do not have a High Priest who is
unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every
respect has been tested as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). In other words,
when God subjected the world to futility, he had in mind to send
his Son into that very futility to rescue people for everlasting
Christ's torture and sufferings were excruciating. The Romans
had devised no worse punishment than crucifixion. That's what God
chose for his Son (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), and the Son willingly
embraced it (Mark 10:45). It was sin that put Jesus to death - "the
LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
Therefore, the sins that brought down the World Trade Towers were
the sins that put Jesus on the cross. That is what we saw in the
great steel cross rising from the wreckage in New York. Sin caused
the collapse and sin caused the cross. It was a gift to the world
that God ordained a rugged cross to stand in the ruins of September
Yes, the sovereignty that carved and stood the cross could have
stopped the calamity. But the designs and purposes of God are
unfathomable. "How unsearchable are his judgments and how
inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33). Someday the curse will be
lifted, but not yet (Revelation 21:4). For now, everyone suffers
and dies. The hope God gives is not escape from, but triumph in,
suffering. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall
tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,
or danger, or sword?" (Romans 8:35). The answer is nobody and
nothing. "In all these things we are more than conquerors" (Romans
8:37). The cross of Christ calls us to suffer and secures our
triumph. Suffering is certain. Salvation is sure. And the cross
makes all the difference. Oh, that every American would say, "Far
be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ" (Galatians 6:14).
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