Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 16, 2001
This past Tuesday, September 11, 2001, will be a day much like December 7, 1941. It will be a day
that will live infamy. Our nation was attacked suddenly, without warning, and without provocation.
There are, however, some very important differences. The attack on Pearl Harbor was by a nation that
was positioning itself for war with us and it was against military targets. While the Pentagon was a
military target, the World Trade Center was not. The passengers and crew on board the commercial
airline jets that were highjacked were not military either. This was not an attack by a foreign government
against our government for disagreements with its policies, but an attack by terrorists against the
American people themselves. More than 2,400 Americans lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The number who died in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks is _______ and continues to climb.
I am sure that all of you have seen pictures of the multiple disasters that occurred that day. The first
plane striking the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Then the second plane striking the South
tower. Then fire at the Pentagon from a third plan striking it. Then the collapse of the South Tower.
Then the collapse of the North Tower, and finally the collapse of the adjacent 7 World Trade Center.
Then there were the scenes of smoke and dust that filled lower Manhattan, and those of the rubble, the
burned out cars, busses, and fire trucks, and the injured being taken to the hospital.
We praise the Lord that no one associated with Grace Bible Church was injured, but some of our
folks do have business acquaintances that were killed. On Wednesday I talked with Carlos Davila, who
was part of our church until they moved to Middletown a few years ago. He worked in a building just
one over from the World Trade Center. He described what he saw, felt and heard. He saw the gaping
hole and fire coming from the North Tower. He felt his building shudder when the towers collapsed and
heard a noise he described as three times as loud as the loudest thunder you have ever heard, and then
having the smoke and debris cause a blackness in which he could not even see the ledge of the window
he was looking out. He gave his personal account of the evacuation, finally getting out of the smoke and
dust when he walked up to the Brooklyn Bridge, then of finally making it to New Jersey where he was
hosed down for decontamination and then having a very wet and cold train ride before he made it home –
upon which his wife took him to the hospital to have his lungs checked out.
There are tens of thousands of such stories of people who were directly affected by these terrorist
attacks and millions of more stories by those of us affected indirectly as we watched the horror unfold
There are a couple of questions I want us to consider as Christians. First, why does God allow such
disasters? Second, How should we respond to all of this?
Disaster is what occurred on Tuesday morning, but terrorist attacks are certainly not the only
disasters that occur. Think of the many major regional disasters that have occurred in just the U.S. over
the last decades. Earthquakes are not unusual to Southern California, but the Northridge quake in 1993
was a major disaster. Yet, the harsh winter in the Mid-West and East that same year killed many more
people than that earthquake did. There have been many major fires in different areas often followed by
subsequent mudslides when the rains finally come. There have been both major floods and major
droughts. Then there are the various hurricanes that slam into the Atlantic coast or Gulf coast every year.
Andrew, Hugo, Fran, Agnes, and Camille are names that bring vivid memories to many. And we cannot
forget the tornadoes that leave paths of destruction in their wake. We also read or hear about other
disasters from around the world – earthquakes, typhoons, fires, flooding, droughts, volcanoes and
consequences of war. These are major disasters because the effect a large area and many people, but
there are also the personal ones.
A flood does not have to be regional to be a disaster to an individual. All it takes is for a water line to
freeze, break, and then flood your house to cause a personal disaster. A fire does not have to cover
hundreds of acres to be a major catastrophe to an individual. All that is needed is for their house or
business to burn down, which happens all too frequently even here in Dutchess County. A loved one
does not have to die because of terrorist activity or a volcano eruption for it to be a tragedy. It is also a
tragedy when a loved one dies in a car accident or from a disease. Disasters happen both on large scales
and on individual levels. Where do they come from? What do they mean? How can we respond to them?
Those are the questions I would like to answer today.
WHERE DO DISASTERS COME FROM?
MAN. Tuesday’s disasters came from the intentional actions of man. This is very important to point
out because there are some who have an incorrect view of the sovereignty of God that want to blame
Him for it. The problem is that man is sinful and God allows man a limited amount of freedom in
choosing to do evil. This was an act of man’s evil against man.
Is God sovereign? Yes. No question about it, but God is not the author of evil or the cause of it. His
very attributes such as holiness (1 Pet. 1:16; Isa. 6:1-7), righteousness (Acts 17:31; Gen. 18:25), love (1
John 4:8; Eph. 2:4-7), goodness (Mark 10:18; Acts 14:7; James 1:7) and truth (Jer. 17:3; Num. 23:19)
preclude Him from being the origin of the antithesis of His own being. It is God’s sovereignty and
righteous attributes that restrains evil. His goodness is demonstrated in the many amazing stories of
survival or protection that have already come out.
One amazing example was the police officer that was somewhere above the 80th floor when the
building collapsed, yet he survived with only leg injuries. But consider as well that both buildings
continued to stand long enough so that even those just below the level of the crash sites were able to get
out of the building. The North tower, which was hit first, but higher up, stood longer than the South
tower which was hit second, but lower down. Both buildings amazingly collapsed upon themselves
instead of toppling over which would have crushed adjacent buildings and possibly causing a “domino”
effect at a time when those buildings were still full of people.
Do not blame God for man’s intentional evil against other humans. Neither should it be said that
somehow American deserves this. The evidence at this time is pointing to these acts of terrorism being
carried out by Islamic Terrorist groups that hate America because we are not Islamic and give support to
Israel. If this is true, then this is in reality an expression of Satan’s hatred for God’s chosen people and
anyone that would support them. In effect, it is persecution for a righteous stand.
Tuesday’s terrorism is not the only disaster intentionally caused by man. Israel, among many nations,
regularly experiences acts of terrorism against them. There are also the many wars, both just and unjust,
that have occurred and are currently going on. The genocides in the last century which include not only
the Nazi holocaust, but also those in Armenia, Russia, China, Cambodia, and what is left of Yugoslavia.
All crimes are intentional acts of evil, and again, even if it only affects one other person, it is a disaster to
Other disasters caused by man are not intentional. Accidents do occur because of ignorance, mistakes
or neglect. Cars crash, ships sink, trains wreck, and fires get out of control. Even attempts to help can
wrong. Joni Erickson Tada was paralyzed as a result of the rescue effort to keep her from drowning after
her diving accident.
NATURE. Many disasters occur because nature is taking its course in following the laws of physics.
Earthquakes and volcanoes occur when the pressures within the earth are released. When the pressure
along a fault plane exceeds the frictional resistance, the rock formations slip and an earthquake occurs. A
lava dome, being less dense that the surrounding rock, will finally be forced to the surface where its
material will burst out in a volcano. The differences in the heating and cooling of the earth’s surface give
rise to high and low pressure zones, and as these pressure zones follow the laws of physics and equalize
themselves, weather patterns develop which give rise to both drought and flood, blizzards and blistering
heat. Most of the worst disasters that have ever occurred in the history of mankind have occurred simply
because nature follows the laws of physics and man was in its path.
Let’s face it. If you live in Minnesota you have to expect some mighty cold days; if you live in the
North East there will be Blizzards on occasion; if you live in Florida, you will have Hurricanes
periodically; if you build your house on the flood plain, don’t be surprised when you get water in living
room; if you live on the side of a volcano, someday you may find lava flowing through your back yard;
and if you build on top of a fault, you had better expect to be shaken out of bed once in awhile.
GOD Himself also brings about disasters. He can strike an individual, an entire nation, or the whole
world. Miriam grumbled against Moses and God struck her with leprosy. Korah rebelled against Moses
and God had the earth swallow him and all those who joined in his rebellion. Egypt refused to let Israel
go and God sent 10 plagues against her and then destroyed her army. The Canaanite tribes allowed
themselves to descend into complete debauchery and utter evil and God destroyed them all to make way
for Israel. The world Noah lived in had become so wicked that the Scripture describes mankind of that
time by saying that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” God sent a flood
that wiped out all of mankind except for the eight people God preserved on the Ark.
We find in the Scriptures case after case where God directly intervenes against man and brings
disaster. And since the Scriptures clearly declare the sovereignty of God in all things, we also believe
that God has control over and limits the disasters that come at the hands of nature, men, or even from
Satan – such as that came upon Job when he lost all of his wealth, his family and his health.
God still is in the business of intervening into the lives of men in the midst of the various calamities
that come whether they are directly from His hand or if it is his merciful limiting calamity caused by
nature, evil men, or Satan. The declarations of Job, the Psalms and Proverbs are still true. It is God that
sends the snow, the rain, the wind and the storm. Nature may be following physical laws, but it is God’s
hand that guides it all. In addition Romans 1 declares that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” God is
still in the business of judgement and His wrath still comes against the ungodly that will not submit in
humble obedience to Him. That is also true for Christians who fail to live properly. 1 Cor. 11:30 tells us
that because of some of them were not properly celebrating the Lord’s Supper, some were sick and some
had even died.
Disasters happen and they can arise from different sources, but what do they tell us? What do they
communicate to us?
WHAT DO DISASTERS COMMUNICATE?
MAN IS EVIL
First, the disasters that man brings upon himself, whether intentionally or unintentionally, tell us that
man is sinful. Remember that sin means to “miss the mark.” It is the failure to achieve that which is good
and right before God and it includes acts of commission (something you did), and acts of omission
(something you failed to do). We have no problem understanding that the disasters mankind suffers due
to war are the direct result of the actions of sinful men. We all understand that the actions of people such
as Adolf Hitler, Emperor Hirohito, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Mihn, Saddam Hussein and Usama Ben-Laden are evil. We all understand that someone who commits a crime is doing evil. But we also need to
understand that the failure to do right is also a sin. A car crash caused by either a drunk or by someone
who simply went to sleep at the wheel is still the result of sin. One is more heinous than other, but both
When we trace disasters to a human origin, we can be sure that we will find a powerful reminder of
man’s sinful nature. Adam’s fall has far reaching effects in all his offspring which is all of us. The more
we are aware of our fallen nature, whether we are the ones suffering or causing the suffering of others,
the greater our desire for redemption from it should be. Disasters of human origin communicate the
fallen nature of mankind.
NATURE IS CURSED
Natural disasters tell us that the earth is cursed. The neo-pagan environmentalist that tell you that
disasters such as fires, flood and volcanic eruptions are just nature’s way of renewing itself have their
heads in the sand. When a natural disaster occurs, we do not see “nature renewing itself” in the sense of
it is now going to be better because of the disaster that happened. That is simply idiotic. Instead it is
nature “renewing” itself in the sense of recovering from all the damage inflicted upon it. Mount Saint
Helens in Oregon blew its top off in May 1980 – 21 years ago. Even an idiot can compare the pictures of
what it was like before and what it is like now and tell you that the natural world there was in better
shape before the volcanic eruption. I can take you to many, many places in Southern California that have
never recovered from the fires that burned 10,20,30,40,50 years ago. What was once green hills covered
with trees, bushes, grass and flowers are still barren with only the hardy wild flowers and scrub growing
on their slopes. Romans 8:19-22 tells us plainly that nature itself is cursed is longing for its own
redemption. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in
hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the
glory of the children of god. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of
childbirth together until now.”
Natural disasters tell us that nature itself is cursed and longing for the day of redemption.
GOD IS POWERFUL
Disasters also communicate the power of God regardless of the origin of the calamity. Anyone who
has ever been in any kind of natural disaster – earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, volcano, severe
storm, etc. knows that there is no denying the power of God in those things. Over and over we find that
Scripture uses the power of what God has created to demonstrate that God Himself is powerful. In Job
38-41 we have recorded God Himself declaring His power to job by pointing out what He has created
and controls. In 38:4-7, 31-33 God speaks of the vastness of the universe itself and He is the one that set
the constellations in place. In 38:8-11 God declares that He is the one that set the boundaries of the
mighty sea itself. In 38:19-24 & 34-38 God declares Himself the one that controls the weather – the
clouds, the rain, the wind, the lightning & thunder. God brings the cold of winter and the warmth of
summer. In addition God declares in these chapters the power of the creatures He has made including the
Behemoth and Leviathan, the descriptions of which can only fit dinosaurs, and Leviathan a fire
breathing one at that. Man is insignificant by comparison. And yet throughout this whole section, it is
not just His power that God is declaring to Job, but also His mercy, tenderness and compassion of how
God cares for His creation and limits what is done.
Some have said the disasters caused by these acts of terrorism – as well as many of the other disasters
that have occurred in recent times – are the acts of an angry God demonstrating His wrath against wicked
Americans. I have already said that I do not believe that is true about the events on Tuesday, though it
may be true with some of the natural disasters. However, to whatever degree that is true, please
understand that the message is not just to the “sinners.” Jesus said in Luke 13:4, “Or do you suppose that
those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men
who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The point is
simply that all people are deserving of God’s judgement of their sins. Those who suffer in a disaster are
no more wicked than those who do not. It is God’s mercy that all of us do not suffer His immediate holy
wrath because of our sins. We should marvel as much about God’s mercy and grace as seen in the stories
of survival as we do about His wrath as seen in the disaster itself.
Disasters communicate the evil of man, the curse upon nature and the power of God in displaying
both His wrath & judgement and His mercy and grace.
HOW DO WE RESPOND?
Disasters, both those that are widespread and those that are personal, are going to happen. They are a
fact of human existence. They come from various sources and they communicate that man is sinful,
nature is cursed, and that God is powerful. The remaining question is how will we respond to them?
A person left to follow his or her natural inclination could respond in a number of ways. None of
them are good.
The response of Pharaoh to the many plagues thrown against him was resistance. It would not cause
him to change his mind and the course of his life. His resistance eventually cost Egypt its glory and
Pharaoh his life.
In 2 Kings 20 we find that King Hezekiah was told by Isaiah the prophet that the illness he had
would kill him. This was a personal disaster. Hezekiah’s response was one of depression. He turned his
face to the wall and wept bitterly. Though he had seen the Lord do great and marvelous things, Hezekiah
still centered his life in himself and so news of disaster brought depression.
In 1 Samuel we find another response to disaster. King Saul had raised his first army of 3,000 men,
but now the Philistines had come against them with 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and people “like
the sand which is on the seashore in abundance.” As far as they were concerned, disaster was imminent
so they hid in caves, thickets, cliffs, cellars and in pits where they trembled. They shook with fear. When
disaster is upon you or looks inevitable, fear can control you. I remember being in a store in California a
few years ago when a 5.3 earthquake hit. That was a pretty good jolt which caused things to fall of the
shelves. I heard quite a few people screaming and running for the door which was not a good idea since
the front of the store was all plate glass. They were controlled by fear and panicked, and that is another
common response to disaster.
Another common response is bargaining with God. We find an example of that in the book of Jonah.
He had set sail on a ship going to Tarshish and suddenly there was a great storm upon them. These pagan
sailors first became afraid, then started crying out to their gods, then they threw the cargo overboard,
then they went down and tried to get all the passengers to cry out to their gods. They wanted to find
some way to appease the right deity to make the trouble go away.
In the midst of a disaster you may have many sinners making a lot of heartfelt promises to God that
they forget all about once the danger is past. Such is the story of the shipwreck victim whose promises
to God kept diminishing as he got closer to shore. At the same time you will find the self-righteous that
blame the disaster on the “sinners” and fail to see any message to themselves. As I mentioned earlier,
that was the reason Jesus spoke about the tower in Siloam that collapsed and killed 18 people. The self
righteous claimed that those killed had to be great sinners. Jesus rebuked them and stated that they were
no more wicked than anyone else, and that unless the repented they would likewise perish. All are
deserving of such judgement and only the mercy and longsuffering of God withholds it from happening.
Repentance should be the proper response.
The natural response to disaster can be denial, resistance, anger, depression, fear, bargaining with
God, self righteous condemnation of others or any combination of these things. But none of these are
good. How does God want us to respond?
We just saw from Luke 13 that we can not be self righteous, but must be humble and repentant
ourselves. Homosexual AIDS victims are reaping the just consequences of their actions according to
God’s warning in Romans 1:27, but the godly response to them is not condemnation, but sincere praise
to God for His mercy to me while having compassion on them and calling them to repentance and
receive God’s gift of forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ.
I also need not fear, resist, be angry or depressed about any disaster I may face during my life. Why?
Because the godly response recognizes that my life is totally in the Lord’s hands to use as He sees fit. My
life here is unimportant except in how He uses it for His own glory. I died with Christ and the life now in
me is His life. I can expect tribulation to come for Jesus said it would, but in Him I can have peace
because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). This is accordance with the very nature of being a
Christian which is following Christ. The more your life is marked by Christlikeness the more you will
respond with godliness to any disaster that comes in your life. Instead of fear there will be peace. Instead
of depression their will be joy. Instead of anger there will by grace. Instead of seeking revenge, you will
seek forgiveness. Instead of tragedy you will find triumph.
This scene was repeated many times on Tuesday. Doug Welch told me he saw many people
preaching on the street corners and handing out tracts. Carlos Davila told me that he gathered his co-workers and prayed with them – which is not and activity you would generally find in a financial firm on
a normal day.
As I said last week, the definition of a successful Christian is “a person who has been saved from
their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and as an adopted child of God is bringing glory
to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in
faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He
has prepared before hand.”
The person who is successfully living the Christian life does this even in the midst of disaster. What really matters in your life? Don’t wait for some disaster to come before you find out. Set out
now to make sure your living for eternity. Take the admonishment in Hebrews 12:1,2 to heart . . . “lay
aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the
race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith . . .”.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about
something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following:
1) How many times is the word “disaster” is mentioned? 2) Talk with your parents about the reasons for disasters and how we should
respond to them
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What were your own thoughts as you saw the tragedies unfold on Tuesday, 9/11/01? How did it affect you personally? What kinds general
disasters have you experienced? What kinds of personal tragedies have you experienced? What evidences have you seen of man’s sinful
nature? Of your own? If God is sovereign, then why isn’t He to blame for Tuesdays terrorist attacks? What stories are you aware of that
show God’s mercy and grace in the midst of Tuesday’s multiple tragedies? How can man unintentionally cause tragedy? Why do natural
disasters happen? How could man avoid many of these? What do disasters communicate about man? What do disasters communicate about
the nature? What do disasters communicate about God? What are the natural ways that people respond to disasters? What was wrong
about the responses of Pharaoh? Hezekiah? Saul? Why can’t you bargain with God? Are those who suffer in a disaster more wicked than
those that do not? Why or why not? What responses does God want us to have? What must change so that you do so?
Sermon Notes – 9/16/2001 A.M.
Dealing With Disaster – Selected Scriptures
Disasters in General
Where Do Disasters Come From?
God is not the author of evil or the cause of it. His very attributes such as holiness (1 Pet. 1:16; Isa. 6:1-7), righteousness
(Acts 17:31; Gen. 18:25), love (1 John 4:8; Eph. 2:4-7), goodness (Mark 10:18; Acts 14:7; James 1:7) and truth (Jer.
17:3; Num. 23:19) preclude Him from being the origin of the antithesis of His own being.
Nature Many disasters occur because nature is taking its course in following the
What Do Disasters Communicate?
About Man – Disasters of human origin communicate the __________________ of mankind.
A car crash caused by either a drunk or by someone who simply went to sleep at the wheel is still the result of sin. One is
more heinous than other, but both still sinful.
About Nature – Natural disasters tell us that the earth is ______________
Nature does not “renew itself” in the sense of getting better, but only in recovering from the damaged caused by the
About God – God is ________________
God’s claims in Job 38-41
Disaster demonstrates God’s __________ & ____________ as well as His ________ & ___________
How Do We Respond?
Denial & Resistance
Bargaining with God
Self righteous condemnation (Luke 13:1-5)
The more your life is marked by Christlikeness the more you will respond with godliness to any disaster that comes in
your life. Instead of fear there will be peace. Instead of depression their will be joy. Instead of anger there will by grace.
Instead of seeking revenge, you will seek forgiveness. Instead of tragedy you will find triumph.