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Was 9/11 a Senseless Tragedy?

by R. C. Sproul (When Worlds Collide)

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.

September 7, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life,Trials / Suffering | Author: admin @ 8:54 am | (3) Comments »


  1. I’m not sure I agree with the statement that “senseless tragedy” is an oxymoron. It simply means “a tragedy that doesn’t make any sense”. It’s not denying the “good” that should be, but rather not understanding how something so tragic, or “not-good”, could happen.

    As a Calvinist, it’s even hard for me to define the “sense” or “purpose” behind 9/11. I absolutely contend for God’s sovereignty, omniscience, wisdom, etc. I also find it difficult to say “God allowed (or caused) this event to happen to bring Him glory…somehow?” to be a clear-cut purpose since it’s so vague a statement. To the Christian, particularly Reformed Christians, the purpose of bringing God glory despite our understanding makes sense. To many Christians though, and certainly the lost, that explanation doesn’t make any sense. It’s senseless.

    Part of this has to do with our “me-centered” philosophy and a “man-centered” understanding of Theology. Part of it also has to do with wanting an answer bigger than “Here’s how God used this in my life” because this HAS TO BE about more than just me.

    I agree with Sproul when he says “What would be truly senseless is a view of God that regards Him either as not sovereign or as senseless.”

    To a world that doesn’t believe in God, though, how does that help? To the Christian who is Theologically shallow, which I may be one of them, how does calling their understanding of God “senseless” address the purpose behind 9/11? How does it make this tragedy less “senseless”? How does it really provide the depth and understanding of the character and nature of God necessary to cope with such tragic events?

    I love Sproul. I’ve loved almost everything I’ve heard or read by him. He lost me on this one though.

    Comment by Don Sartain — September 7, 2011 @ 9:24 am

  2. Thanks for the comment Don – hold tight as this was one excerpt of three we’re posting this week. If it still doesn’t tie together at the end, shoot me a message and I’ll give you the whole chapter in electronic format.

    Comment by Angie Cheatham — September 7, 2011 @ 9:33 am

  3. Haha, will do. And sorry about that being so long…brevity never was one of my strong points, lol.

    Comment by Don Sartain — September 7, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

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