In the Gospel today we see a God who has great power. Power so great that He merely needs to speak a word, and a man who could not hear or speak is healed. This power was evident in the very beginning, when God created all things by means of His Word. “Let there be light,” he said, “and there was light.” “Thy Strong Word did cleave the darkness / At Thy speaking it was done.”
Of course, Jesus doesn’t merely speak the words of God like the prophets or apostles, but is Himself the very Word of God in human flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” When Jesus says, “be opened,” he wasn’t speaking someone else’s word, but his very own. The power of His Word actually comes from within Him.
“Be opened.” And so it was. Ears and mouth are loosed, freed from their bondage. “Be opened.” The same One speaks His Word today in the Church and great things happen. By the Word of Christ water becomes Baptism; Bread and Wine become heavenly food; sins are loosed. “Thy Strong Word bespeaks us righteous; / Bright with Thine own holiness.”
God’s Word preached and spoken into our ears accomplishes something in us. In the unbeliever, it creates faith where there was no faith before. As we heard in the Epistle from Romans today: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” In the stubborn and disobedient the Word of God acts as a hammer and a mirror—hammering away at rocky, prideful hearts, and revealing sin, making the conscience come alive.
In the one who has a crushed and broken spirit, the Word of God acts as a soothing balm and medicine, forgiving sins, and offering comfort to a wounded conscience. The Word of Christ is living and active. It accomplishes what it says. It bestows what it promises. Christ’s Word is powerful, so powerful it can bring things into existence that were not, so powerful that it can heal and bring to life from the dead. “Be opened!” And it was so.
So, the question often goes, if God is so great, if God is so powerful, then why does He not use that power to restrain evil in the world? Why does He not just speak that all-powerful Word and curb the efforts of those who would bring violence to the people of the earth? Why doesn’t he speak that same Word and destroy terrorists and suicide bombers, abortionists, and others who engage in violence?
After the attacks on our nation 10 years ago today, many people, many Christians questioned their faith, and doubted the love and the power of God. Many asked: “Where was this all-powerful God on September 11, 2001?” “If God is so loving, and if God is so powerful, why didn’t he prevent this terrible tragedy from happening? Where was the God who said, “Be opened,” and the ears and tongue of a deaf-mute were freed?”
A few days ago I had the displeasure of watching a 9/11 special on Iowa Public Television. Priests, pastors, Rabbis and other spiritual men were talking about how 9/11 changed their view of God and their attitude towards him. No longer did they believe in a God who was all-loving. No longer did they believe in a God who was intimately involved with the affairs of this world, or one that even cared about us.
And do you know what was missing in all of these statements? The cross. All of these so-called holy men were trying to use their reason to understand these horrific events, and ultimately to understand God. And none of them were looking at the cross, where God Himself in human flesh was subjected to the violence of death for all.
This is what happens when we try to use our reason to understand God, or when we try to deal with God apart from his revelation in Jesus, and in the Holy Scriptures. We must ultimately fall into despair or become cynical, because apart from the cross, God’s works often seem unloving, cruel, and even evil to us.
Luther called this the deus absconditus, the hidden God. God hides himself in His opposite. The all-powerful God is found in a helpless little baby in a manger. The majesty of God is found in a blood-stained face, in a head with a crown of thorns. Such a God must be grasped and taken hold of by faith, not by sight or by one’s reason or senses.
As to the question of “why,” well, some things are just not meant for us to know. It is never a wise thing to try to discern the hidden will of God. For there we are dealing with things that we cannot know. What we do know is that God was present—He was present in the hands and feet that helped and sacrificed for others; He was present in the Ministry of the Word that was brought to the suffering and dying. He was there, in the midst of life and death, in the midst of good and evil.
He is present in the midst of your suffering too. The Apostles understood this, for Paul writes that he bears in his own body the marks of Christ. As Christians, it is important to know that we do not suffer in spite of the fact that we belong to Christ, but rather because we belong to Him. Christianity is not, as it is often made out to be, a religion that frees one from pain and suffering.
If anything, the pain and anguish of life is increased for the believer, because he shares in Christ’s own cross and suffering. Jesus said to the disciples: “Whoever does not take up his cross daily and follow me is not worthy of me.” We must get the idea out of our heads that all suffering, that all pain is bad for us. In fact, it is part of keeping the first commandment that we are patient under crosses, commending ourselves continually into God’s gracious and merciful hands.
Certainly it is true that nothing happens in the world without God’s knowledge, or outside of his control. Scripture says that God “kills and makes alive.” He brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble and meek. He is not like the gods of Mt. Olympus who sit up in the clouds aloof from the affairs of men. Even to this day, all things continue to be upheld by the Word of His mouth.
So yes, God knew what was happening on 9/11. Just as He knew what was happening in the Garden when Satan came and tempted Adam and Eve. Surely he could have intervened then, as much as any other time. Human reason says, “If God had intervened and prevented the devil from deceiving the woman, then we would not live in a fallen world.” Why, God? Why didn’t you step in? Why didn’t you intervene?
But the “why” is not for us to know, or to speculate about. “For who has known the mind of the Lord,” says the Apostle. And, the Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Rather than ask “why,” God would have us look to the One who reveals Him, to Jesus, to His cross, to His suffering and death for sins. For there the mind and heart of God are revealed for all to see. There, in suffering, in dying, God’s will for all men is shown. Apart from the cross, God can appear to us to be very good and loving and kind, but he can also appear to us to be very cold and hateful, and delighting in evil.
Natural revelation, what we can see in nature, can only tell us that there is a God, and that this God is powerful. It cannot tell us what he thinks of us, what his attitude towards us is. But in the cross, we find the answer to these questions. For there the love of God is made manifest for us. There we find the answer to the question: “Where in the world is God?” On Good Friday, he was there for all of us, giving His life as a ransom for many.
Perhaps the more important question is this: Where is God today? Where is the Jesus who opened the eyes of the blind and made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak? Where is the Jesus who gave himself into death on Calvary and rose on the third day? Is he not among us as we are assembled together in His name? “Wherever two or three of you are gathered together in my name, there I am in your midst.”
Surely Christ is no less present among us today than he was during His earthly Ministry. The fact that we cannot see him does not mean that He is not here. His voice still breaks through the darkness of sin and unbelief: “Be opened.” Be opened, O ears, and hear with faith the voice of your Good Shepherd. Be opened, O mouth, and confess the name of Jesus who has saved you from sin and death. Be opened, O eyes, and see the God who is love in the face of the Crucified One.
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, may you find peace in the One who was crucified for you and who rose in victory over death and the grave. Amen.