I have noticed, as the media described the events of September 11, 2001, that they used words such as “catastrophe” or “calamity” to describe that day. One word I hear perhaps more often than any other is “tragedy.”
I am especially concerned when the events of that dark day are described as a “senseless” tragedy. If we look closely at the phrase, it becomes obvious that “senseless tragedy” is an oxymoron. It is a self-contradictory statement, a phrase that makes no sense. For something to be defined as “tragic” there first must be some standard of good for it to be deemed tragic over against. But if things happen in a way that is “senseless,” there cannot be anything that is either a tragedy or a blessing. Each event would simply be meaningless.
The word “tragedy” presupposes some kind of order or purpose in the world. If the world has purpose and order, then all that occurs in it is meaningful in some respect. The idea of a “senseless tragedy” represents a worldview that is completely incompatible with Christian thought. It assumes that something happens without purpose or without meaning. If God is God and if He is a God of providence, if He is truly sovereign, then nothing ever happens that is ultimately senseless. Things may appear to be without purpose or meaning. Their ultimate purpose might elude us for the present. Yet if we fail to see purpose in what happens, we must remember that our view of things is limited by our earthly perspective.
An important slogan in theology is finitum non capax infiniti. This means that “the finite cannot grasp the infinite.” The limit of our comprehension is the earthly perspective. We do not have the ability to see things sub specie aeternitatis—“from the eternal perspective.”
The eternal perspective belongs to God. He is the infinite One, whose understanding is likewise infinite. If God is truly sovereign—if He rules over all things—then nothing that ever happens is senseless. Events can be senseless only if: 1) God is not sovereign over them; or 2) He Himself is senseless. What would be truly senseless is a view of God that regards Him either as not sovereign or as senseless.