At Gateway Church in Austin, we have been exploring topics which may be a source of confusion or resistance. In the final week, Ted Beasley talked about “Evil” on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Watch Ted’s message here:
Listen to my message at Gateway South here:
Check out the discussion questions here:
Next Steps – discussion questions for your family, running partners, or life group.
Here are notes from the message Ted shared:
15 years ago, we suffered the worst terrorist attack in the history of our country. Are we really stronger as a nation since then? Do you buy that the evil perpetrated on those 2,996 dead and over 6,000 injured and our country, and the world, for that matter – do you buy that it made us stronger?
- It woke us up to the dangers on our planet.
- It caused us, for a time, to rethink our priorities and value what is most important – love, faith, family, beauty, things that last.
- It unified us in sorrow. It steeled our national resolve.
- For a season, it connected us across racial and economic and religious and political divides.
Even still, does one of the most evil atrocities in our history make us stronger?
The Ground Zero site still asks the question. The memorial is two 1-acre pools with the largest man-made waterfalls flowing downward comprising the footprints of the Twin Towers, symbolizing the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls are intended to mute the sounds of the city. Written around the walls of the pools are the names of the victims. And yet right next to the memorial rises the Freedom Tower, 104 stories of majesty and technological wonder, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Two wounds in the earth next to the symbol of power pose the question.
Does the height of the good that came from 9/11 transcend the depth of destruction and sorrow?
R. R. Tolkien, the master storyteller of The Lord of the Rings series, coined the phrase eucatastrophe.
A catastrophe is an unexpected evil. It comes from the Greek word for overturn. A sudden dramatic event that overturns our stability or happiness or hope.
Tolkien added the Greek prefix eu – meaning “good” Eucastarophe. A good catastrophe. It’s when an evil catastrophe is overturned a second time with good. He defined it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with joy that brings you to tears.”
Today through video and song and worship, we’re going to reflect on how God creates eucatastrophe – Good from evil – not just in 9/11 for our country, but even in some of the more personal trials you’ve been through in recent years.
Of course, the ultimate verse on eucatastrophe is Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
The next verse goes on to say that God is working a master plan.
Do you believe this ? Do you believe that everything you’ve ever gone through, everything you’re in the middle of right now, is bending in this beautiful arc toward something good?
At the moment things seem darkest, consider just a few of the stories of good coming out of catastrophe:
- The baby Moses was marked for death by a blood-thirsty tyrant, but his mom placed him in a reed basket and floated him down the Nile, and he was found the daughter of the king.
- Daniel went from lion’s den to the courts of rulers. Sampson got his strength back for one last push.
- Jonah was belched out of a sea creature to preach powerfully to a whole city.
- Paul was arrested and sent to Rome for trial, but as a result ended up spreading the gospel all over the known world.
- The boy Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and later falsely accused and tossed into prison by his boss, Potiphar, but God orchestrated events so that this faithful young man could earn the trust of Pharaoh, and save the civilized world from famine.
Remember what Joseph said to his brothers so many years after they abandoned him? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)
Consider these more recent examples of good coming out of catastrophe:
Even look at recent history of the church. Corrie ten Boom, a member of the Dutch Resistance in World War II was arrested by the Nazis for protecting Jews. After being miraculously freed, she went on to buy a former concentration camp and turn it into a place of ministry to those ravaged by war. By age 86, she had spoken to millions around the world her message that “there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
As Chris Armstrong points out in this month’s edition of Christianity Today, in 1946, all of the Christian missionaries were kicked out of China, but it was that catastrophe that led to the Chinese believers learning to stand on their own, and grow the house church movement so that by 1992 there were over 7,000 underground churches with tens of millions of believers.
Fifteen years ago on 9/11, Lee Iepli was at Ground Zero in search of his son, who was part of New York Fire Department’s Squad 288. His son’s body was recovered three months later. Lepli decided to turn his personal tragedy into founding the 9/11 Tribute Center. Every year, over 500 volunteers from companies affected by 9/11 come together to build bicycles for the children of military families.
Nicole Simpson was a financial planner at Morgan Stanley on the 73rd floor of the second tower. Simpson’s split second decision not to enter the elevator right before the second tower was hit saved her from the tragic end of her office colleagues. After dealing with her grief, she founded Harvest Wealth Financial, a firm that offers financial planning to survivors of 9/11 and other disasters. Meet
Sujo John was on the 81st floor of the north tower when the first plane hit. Somehow he made it to the ground and was anxious to find his pregnant wife Mary who worked in the second tower. As Mary saw her husband in the mayhem that was unfolding all around her just outside the buildings, she watched in horror as debris fell on top of him and he was buried. He was miraculously rescued. Since that time the two of them have traveled the world sharing about their ordeal and their Christian faith. As a result of their testimony, over 20,000 people have given their lives to God at their events.
Sometimes when chaos rains down, hope springs up.
Eucatastrophe. God works with willing people, and they become stronger.
No doubt you’ve had catastrophe at times in your life. Maybe you’re even in the midst of one right now. Consider: are you willing to have God make something good out of evil?
God’s Response to Evil
Maybe you struggle because it feel like evil is winning a lot of the time. Isn’t that strange in light of the fact that Scripture speaks of evil as if it is already defeated?
God hates suffering and evil, so He did something about it.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15
Do you see what happened? Jesus lived out a eucatastrophe by being subject to the heartache and evils of this world and ultimately dying on a cruel Roman cross to make something good of what was meant for evil.
I like how Dorothy Sayers explains:
“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with His creation, He has kept his own rules and played fair. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death.”
And the end result? Consider what Jesus accomplished:
“Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three–sin, guilt, death–are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. – I Corinthians 15:55-58
In one stroke, sin, guilt, death have been defeated. God did something about evil.
So if Jesus conquered, why is there still disease, hatred and 9/11?
The world doesn’t look like God has done anything about evil, so how do you make sense of that?
There is a difference between something being true in principle and being manifested as fact.
Let me share an example. Flip a light switch, and the light comes on. In reality though, it takes a split second for light to travel. In principle the light fills the room as soon as you hit the switch. In fact, it takes some time for it to happen.
What does this have to do with the problem of suffering? God experiences time differently than we do.
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. – 2 Peter 3:8
What the passage is simply saying is that God doesn’t measure time the way we do. We have a finite perspective on reality. God has much bigger one. And perspective is everything, right? The same event can mean different things to different people. Take swimming. It’s a confusing sport because sometimes you do it for fun and other times you do it not to die. When I am swimming sometimes I don’t know which one it is, so I gotta go by the outfit. Pants – uh oh. Bathing suit – we’re okay. Naked – we’ll see. Perspective is key. For an eternal God, this chapter is history is minute. We’re muons, so from our view it’s taking a long time. So we live in this in between what is true in principle and what is true in fact. It’s already true that Christ has defeated evil, but it is not yet fully manifested. Heaven is coming, but presently we live in this in between stage. God has done something about evil, sin, and natural disaster in principle already, but it is not fully realized as manifested fact.
How do we deal with evil in our lives and in the world?
1. Cast a Stone.
Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
When it comes to evil being perpetrated against you, you can become a victim or you can be a survivor.
Paul describes it this way:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. – Romans 8:22-23
Paul is describing the diabolical world we live in, but Paul says, there is something different about us. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit. When the Israelites would harvest, they would quickly harvest the fruit that ripened first and offer it to God, and it was for them the promise that more is coming. It was the downpayment. The Bible refers to Christians four times firstfruits. Our job is to show what that harvest will look like. Our task is to manifest the already in the not yet.
- In principle God has comforted all sorrow, but right now there is sorrow. As firstfruits, we are to comfort those in sorrow.
- In principle, God has quashed injustice, but society is unjust. As firstfruits, we are speak out against institutional injustice.
- In principle, God has banished sickness, but humans still get sick. As firstfruits we are to pray for healing and encourage the sick.
There is some sense in Scripture that God has commissioned you and me as Christians to manifest the ultimate victory that is about to come, and the more we do that, the more it hastens his final coming.
Are you a complainer about evil, or are you a firstfruit?
2. Lean In.
The real antidote to evil is hope, leaning into your faith that one day God makes all of this right. Hope that the already will be manifested fully someday.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
There is something coming that is eternal. Trouble is momentary, maybe not from our finite perspective, but it will go away, and something is coming that far outweighs everything you are going through.
Can you wait patiently with hope?
How many of you would like to see this old world set right once and for all?
- No more physical struggles
- No more Austin allergies
- No more calls from doctors that begin, “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
- No more Fergusons or Baltimores or Nice, France or twin tower attacks
- No more I-35 separating haves and have-nots.
- No more politicians lying at every turn, no more election attack ads. Society would be more civil.
- The National Enquirer would be full of stories about moral beauty and heroic sacrifice and pictures of celebrities with their own husbands or wives.
- No lawsuits.
- There would be lawyers, but they would have to get jobs doing useful things that like slicing brisket at Franklin’s BBQ, which would all be non-fattening, of course.
- There would always be a parking spot for you right in front of the door at Gateway, and nobody, I mean nobody’s cell phone would go off in church.
- No jails.
- No hospitals.
- No nursing homes.
- You would never have feel ashamed for your past.
- You would never have to battle thoughts of self-doubt or get to the end of the day and wish you had done something differently.
- You would never be judged because of how you look or how well you performed.
How many of you want that?
Then what you want, friends, is heaven. Maybe you haven’t thought about it in a while, but deep down inside, don’t you want heaven? Aren’t you starved for it? It’s already promised. The light switch has been flipped. The gears of history and your history are grinding towards it, maybe in a way that feels anguishing sometimes.
Your catastrophe will become eutastrophe.
Will you lean in and wait with hope?
Right now we’re stuck in the middle, and with His help, we will make it through!