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.
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.
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.
Perhaps the clearest message of 9/11 is that it is time for all us to dial 911 and sort things out with our Maker. We need to shore up our spiritual lives, for we know not the day or hour when our own number will be up. If this tragedy manages to call this nation to a greater sense of urgency about matters of faith and ethics, matters of justice and mercy, perhaps we can face a somewhat ominous looking future with more courage.
It has been said "we do not know what the future holds, but we do know Who holds the future." The one who is Alpha and Omega calls us now to return to our source and our first principles. May God help us do so.