Mr. Blackwell’s fifth-grade social studies class.
That’s the question everyone asks, isn’t it? “Where were you when it happened?”
That’s where I was. Eleven years old with no idea that we even had a World Trade Center, much less what it was or why it was significant. When another teacher ran into the room to turn on the chunky, wall-mounted TV in the corner of the room, I could tell something important was happening—I just couldn’t wrap my head around what, exactly. Planes and skyscrapers and terrorist attacks—the idea that something of this magnitude could happen in America, in my world, was a little much for my eleven-year-old mind to grasp.
In the days and weeks that followed, I saw my country shaken to its core. We were reeling. Somewhere out there were people so eager to see America burn that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives to make it happen.
As a child, 9/11 was my first real glimpse into the evil that existed in this world. Oh, sure, I’d heard of bad things happening; I had a concept of evil, but to watch those two towers crumble on a television screen and know that this was happening in my country, in my backyard—it changed things. It changed how I saw the world.
“Le meilleur des mondes possibles,” as Gottfried Leibniz called it. The best of all possible worlds. That was his answer to the existence of evil. If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, then, Leibniz reasoned, God must be allowing the current conditions of this world to exist because they are better than any other alternative. Anything that happens is better than anything that could have happened, because God is good and He allowed it.
It’s not hard to see the flaws in that argument. This—the world around you, the world where the tragedies of 9/11 and Darfour and Rwanda and Pol Pot and the Sudan can and do happen with alarming frequency—this is the very best God can do? Genocides and wars and senseless killings and poverty and starvation—our almighty and all-powerful God was able to find no better alternative? If this were the best possible world, I don’t know that I’d want any part of it.
Thankfully, Leibniz was wrong. Evil doesn’t exist because God couldn’t find a better alternative; evil exists because God allows us to make our own decisions, and we’re categorically awful at it. He spends so much of the Bible urging us to choose between “life and death, blessing and cursing” (Deuteronomy 30:19), reminding us that “the law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7) while “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Those verses are typically lost on us, primarily because “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Evil exists because we think we know better than God. God’s law was designed to lead us to life and blessings and keep us away from death and cursings. That’s what it does. When we ignore it, we create the very evils God was trying to protect us from.
No, this is not the best of all possible worlds. The best of all possible worlds would have been a world where God said, “Don’t eat from that tree,” and then we didn’t. The best of all possible worlds would have been a world where God told Cain to rule over his sinful attitude, and then he did. The best of all possible worlds would have been a world where the entire human race held its every action and thought up to the standard of God’s word and then acted accordingly.
We do not live in that world—on the contrary, it seems like every day, we’re more determined to steer ourselves away from that world. The farther we drift from God, the more we embrace sin—and the more we embrace sin, the less attention we pay to the evil we’re heaping up all around us. We are heading at a breakneck speed toward the worst of all possible worlds—and before much longer, we’ll get there.
What gives me comfort is knowing that the best of all possible worlds is coming. God promised that He would establish it, just like He promised that the road there was going to be a rough one. Things have to get a lot worse before they get any better.
But they will get better.
That gives me hope. It gives me hope when I think back to the events of 9/11 and all the tragedies and travesties that have happened since. Something better is coming.
The night of the attacks, 14 years ago today, President Bush addressed the nation with these words:
Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.
Those who were left grieving by the monsters behind the attacks of September 11 will be comforted—and more than that, those who perished in those awful attacks will one day be comforted as well. The whole world will be comforted by its Creator—even the ones who caused these awful tragedies, because they’ll need it too. Something better is coming. Hope is coming. The best of all possible worlds is coming. It’s not here yet, but it’s coming and cannot be stopped.
The Kingdom of God is coming.
God speed that day.
Until next time,