If you haven’t been introduced to the ministry of Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, allow me to make that introduction.  His “conservative” Presbyterian church in New York has been rated as the 16th most influential church in America – and for good reason.  His visionary leadership and teaching have not only resulted in a major evangelical church in Manhattan, but have also produced vibrant church planting and mercy ministries.  Dr. Keller was recently invited to speak at an interfaith memorial for 9/11 victims and President Bush was so impressed he asked for a transcript.  Let’s pray for more Tim Kellers whose preaching on Christ’s death and resurrection bring the Gospel to the world.  Here is the transcript:

SERVICE OF REMEMBRANCE AND PEACE
FOR 9-11 VICTIMS’ FAMILIES
Ground Zero/St Paul’s Chapel Tim Keller
Sep 10, 2006

As a minister, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who
are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question – the WHY
question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like
all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to
say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and
that’s not going to be any different today. But we can’t shrink from
the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to
honor the memories of the ones we’ve lost and love is to live
confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually
be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a
world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get
that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to
propose that, though we won’t get all of what we need, we may get some
of what we need 3 ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and
then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an
empowering hope from the future.

First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and
suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are.
Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see
horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your
belief in God, and you’re right – and you say, “How could a good and
powerful God allow something like this to happen?”

But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that
if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the
problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter
from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there
would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So
think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material
universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong
eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn’t the way
things ought to be. Why not? Now I’m not going to get philosophical at
a time like this. I’m just trying to make the point that the problem of
injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a
problem for disbelief in God—for any set of beliefs. So abandoning
belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what
will?

Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past.
Now at this point, I’d like to freely acknowledge that every faith –
and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great
resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as
a Christian minister I know my own faith’s resources the best, so let
me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big
question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are
almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don’t question God! He
has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept
everything. Don’t question. The other answer is: I don’t know what
God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are
happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I’d like
to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the
second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we
don’t have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful
idea.

One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies
with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things
like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband
to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are
saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he
interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is
powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that.
Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable
to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general
or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in
the inn.

But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we
sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is
to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this
means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never
myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world
of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see
what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and
suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t
be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t
care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come
down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly
empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can
transform you. It can give you strength.

And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both
the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian
Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we
read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake….[They]…
will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for
ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection
and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing
for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just
a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the
restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means
this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored,
returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!

In the year after 9-11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated
successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future
resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The
Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and
discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out:
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is
everything sad going to come untrue?”

The answer is YES. And the answer of the Bible is YES. If the
resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going
TO COME UNTRUE.

Oh, I know many of you are saying, “I wish I could believe that.” And
guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that.
To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection,
long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of
it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3. Beloved, now we are children of God
and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when
he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who
have this hope purify themselves as he is pure.” Even to have a hope in
this is purifying.

Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like
a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the
humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a
pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and
infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at
the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass
that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all
resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the
blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to
forgive but to justify what has happened.”

That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right. Amen.