This is the crisis we're in: God's light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness ... because they were not really interested in pleasing God. John 3:19 (Msg)
The horrific mass murder of innocent Americans on 9/11 left all rational people shocked, angry, grief-stricken and numb. Our tears flowed freely and our hearts carried a deep ache.
With pain is so heartfelt and so personal, it’s only natural to ask, Why does God allow such evil to happen? If God is so great and so good, why does he allow human beings to hurt each other?
The answer lies in what is both our greatest blessing and our worst curse: our capacity to make choices. God has given us a free will. Made in God's image, he has given us the freedom to decide how we will act and the ability to make moral choices. This is one asset that sets us apart from animals, but it also is the source of so much pain in our world. Every one of us is capable of making selfish, self-centered or even evil choices. Whenever that happens, people get hurt.
Sin ultimately is selfishness. I want to do what I want, not what God tells me to do. Unfortunately, sin always hurts others, not just ourselves.
God could have eliminated all evil from our world by simply removing our ability to choose. He could have made us puppets -- marionettes on strings that he pulls. By taking away our ability to choose, evil would vanish.
But God doesn't want us to be puppets. He wants to be loved and obeyed by creatures who freely, voluntarily choose to love him and each other. Love is not genuine if there is no other option.
Yes, God could have kept the terrorists from completing their suicidal missions. He could have short-circuited their ability to choose their own will instead of his. But, to be fair, God also would have to do that to all of us. While you and I aren't terrorists, we do hurt others with our own selfish decisions and actions.
In a world of free choices, God's will is rarely done! Doing our own will is much more common -- much easier. Don't blame God for the tragedy of 9/11. Blame people who ignored what God says to do: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
In heaven, God's will is done perfectly. That's why there is no sorrow, pain or evil there. But this is earth, a fallen, imperfect place. We must choose to do God's will every day. It isn't automatic. That is why Jesus told us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."
The Bible explains the root of evil: "This is the crisis we're in: God's light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness ... because they were not really interested in pleasing God" (John 3:19, Message). We're far more interested in pleasing ourselves than we are in pleasing the one who made us.
Many other questions race through our minds during dark days, but the answers will not come from pollsters, pundits or politicians. We must look to God and his Word for comfort and direction, for answers to our questions. We must humble ourselves and admit that each of us often chooses to ignore what God wants us to do.
I suspect houses of worship across America have been packed this weekend, as they were the weekend after 9/11. In times of crisis we cry out to connect with our Creator. The urge is deep-seated and universal. The first words uttered by millions on Sept. 11, 2001, were, "Oh, God!"
We were made for a relationship with God, but he waits for us to choose him. He is ready to comfort, guide and direct us through our grief. But the choice is ours.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times Best Seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors. © Copyright 2011 Rick Warren.