9/11,  Speaking of Terror Part 7,  Terror

Speaking of Terror – Part VII

Answers to the questions raised in response to 9/11 are not easy. Many are yet to be answered and more yet to be asked. But for the past six posts (I, II, III, IV, V, VI) I have argued that Christianity is uniquely equipped with the presuppositions—linguistically, metaphysically, epistemologically and ethically—which make the questions meaningful in the first place.

The Christian is uniquely equipped with the symbolic structure of reality itself as revealed in the Bible. He is able to perceive events from the perspective of what God has to say about God’s reality. 9/11 was assuredly a horrible day, but it was not inexplicable. The words “good” and “evil” are not to be invalidated as arbitrary conceptual sets, but to be used to describe reality. Evil acts, such as the murder of thousands of people, are evil not merely because we believe them to be and construct language accordingly, but because they are in reality evil. And it is God, whose reality it is, who has bestowed on us the conceptual scheme with which to describe those acts.

The Christian view of reality comprises God and his creation, creator and creature. Man is, therefore, not stuck in an endless flow of matter. He is, rather, uniquely created, able to know God yet fallen and with the capacity for great evil for which he is culpable. He is not mere beast, but nor is he a god.1 It is this view of the human, unique to Christian Theism, by which he is distinguished from other creatures yet remains a dependant, personal being. It is only with a view of reality that presupposes the primacy of personhood (in the Trinity and reflected in humanity) that 9/11 can be made sense of. Murder, suicide, compassion and love are only categories of any worth if God is personal and created humans as personal beings. Only Christian Theism can speak of God as eternally interpersonal in his intra-Trinitarian love. It is this grounding which establishes the personhood of man and, therefore, the gravity of the actions of terrorists to destroy it.

The Christian is equipped with an epistemology based on our dependence for knowledge from God. The Christian is receptive in posture, reliant upon an internal transformation of the self which creates the conditions for knowledge of the truth. It is not a conversion from one view of reality to another per se, but a transformation of the knower himself. Thus, epistemology is also moral. To be unconverted is to remain blind, to be dead in one’s sin. The events of 9/11 may teach us many things, but the knowledge of the real—in the sense of saving knowledge—relies on moral transformation not merely new information.

The Christian’s worldview can both admit his own failings and pronounce terror in the skies as evil because he recognizes the absolute moral authority of God. Christianity posits an absolute standard of goodness to be found in the person of God. Man is not, therefore, an autonomous judge. Rather, he is one under judgment, one reckoned as righteous solely due to the merit of Christ. Therefore, his moral pronouncements are not his own, but God’s. Furthermore, he is not under the illusion that mankind is improving his moral lot or that secularism offers the best road to peace. The Christian takes into account the movements of history, but he does so with the assumption that history is not his to make, that all history is God’s history and that no event occurs outside the sovereign providence of God. Yet it is that same God who took up flesh and then all terror into himself. And in him we stand firm in the face of evil. For it is in him that all things hold together, cohere and make sense.

1 See Gilbert Meilaender, Neither Beast nor God (Encounter, 2009).

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.