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Sept. 11, 2001 will be seen as one of the most horrific and historic days in U.S. history. More Americans lost their lives on that day than at Pearl Harbor.

Whenever such events transpire, people of faith turn to their sacred texts and to prayer for answers. In my particular case, I happened to be working on a commentary on Revelation when this event transpired, and in particular was working on the famous vision of the four horsemen of the apocalypse found in Revelation 6. Four horses and their riders are summoned by the creatures that surround the throne of God and are sent to earth on a destructive mission bringing war, pestilence, famine, and death.

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While working on this material, I happened to turn on the television, and there were jet planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania. There were four of them, and they all brought death with them. But that was not all. Later that afternoon I saw on the news about the price gouging at the gas pumps in various places in the country, set off by the panic the disasters had prompted. I was reminded of the words of Rev. 6.5-6 where the audience is told about exhorbitant costs for staple items used to make food once the disaster struck.

There are some remarkable correspondences between what happened in this country on Sept. 11 and John's vision. For me it was a case of life doing way too much imitating of art. But this text, when juxtaposed with the events of Sept. 11, raises many issues. It will be well to discuss briefly a few of them.

First of all, John's vision involves a series of six preliminary judgments. The four horsemen are not about final judgment on the earth. Indeed, they are about catastrophic events which God wishes to use to call the world to repentance and amendment of life.

Furthermore, John's symbolic vision is intentionally multi-valent in character. John uses universal images of devastation which could be applied to many different world crises. For example, Rev. 6 would be equally apt when applied to Dec. 6 and Pearl Harbor day in the 1940s as to Sept. 11, 2001.

Thirdly, John is not interested in debating issues of secondary causes; he wishes to make clear that even in horrible times, God is still in control of all that transpires. Indeed, he wishes to assert that God in Christ (depicted as the Lamb) is in control. God can even use the wrath of human beings to his own good ends.

Revelation is in part a message of reassurance to believers that though they may suffer and even die, God still is sovereign, has a salvific plan for humankind and is with the believers in their suffering.

If John were with us now, he would no doubt offer us the same assurance that God is with the suffering and grieving, that God in the end will make sure that justice is done, that God can work all things together for good, even tragic things.

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