How Shall We Minister to People After the World Trade Tower Terrorism of September 11, 2001?

21 Ways to Comfort Those Who Are Suffering

On the morning of September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked at least three commercial planes and flew them into both towers of the 110-story World Trade Center in New York City, and into the Pentagon in Washington. Within about an hour both towers entirely collapsed.

As I write, no one dares estimate the loss of life. Fifty thousand people work in the towers each day, not to mention the people on the planes and the hundreds of people on the ground trying to help as the towers fell. The personal and national and economic impact is incalculable. The nation is in shock.

I wrote most of what follows in response to the Littleton, Colorado tragedy in April, 1999 when two students killed thirteen people at Columbine High School and then shot themselves. The magnitude of yesterday's act is Littleton times five thousand. My aim in writing was mainly to help the elders of my own church minister to our people. I revise it and put it out again in the hope that others might be helped to love people and honor Christ in this dark and heavy moment of shaking and weeping.

What shall we say about these events in order to honor Christ and minister to people for their good? Our first decision as a church was to call for three special services. The banner flying over these services is: "Sorrow, Self-humbling, and Steady Hope in our Savior and King, Jesus Christ." You can read in what follows why all three of these emphases are crucial - sorrow, self-humbling, and steady hope. You will also see why it is so important to say Jesus is a Savior and a King at times like this.

I hope this will serve as a kind of Biblical resource for theological truth and pastoral care. May the Lord strengthen your hands and heart in this crucial moment of need.

1. Pray. Ask God for his help for you and for those you want to minister to. Ask him for wisdom and compassion and strength and a word fitly chosen. Ask that those who are suffering would look to God as their help and hope and healing and strength. Ask that he would make your mouth a fountain of life.

James 1:5. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."

Deuteronomy 32:2. "May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distil as the dew, as the gentle rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb."

Proverbs 13:14. "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death."

2. Feel and express empathy with those most hurt by this great evil and loss; weep with those who weep.

Ecclesiastes 3:1. "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven . . . A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. . . . A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing."

Romans 12:15. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."

3. Feel and express compassion because of the tragic circumstances of so many loved ones and friends who have lost more than they could ever estimate.

John 11:33-35. "When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept."

Luke 19:41-44. "When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.'"

Luke 7:11-17. "Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, 'Do not weep.' And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise!' The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!' and, 'God has visited His people!' This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district."

4. Take time and touch, if you can, and give tender care to the wounded in body and soul.

Matthew 8:14-15. "When Jesus came into Peter's home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him."

Mark 1:40-41. "And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.' Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him."

Luke 10:30-37. "Jesus replied and said, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you." Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?' And he said, 'The one who showed mercy toward him.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do the same.'"

5. Hold out the promise that God will sustain and help those who cast themselves on him for mercy and trust in his grace. He will strengthen you for the impossible days ahead in spite of all darkness.

Psalm 34:18. "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."

Psalm 23:4. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."

2 Corinthians 1:3-4. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

2 Corinthians 1:8-9. "We do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead."

6. Affirm that Jesus Christ tasted hostility from men and knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, and to endure overwhelming loss, and then be killed, so that he is now a sympathetic mediator for us with God.

Hebrews 4:15-16. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted [or "tested" which makes the application larger!] in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Isaiah 53:3-6. "He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."

7. Declare that this murder was a great evil, and that God's wrath is greatly kindled by the wanton destruction of human life created in his image.

Exodus 20:13. "Thou shalt not murder."

Genesis 9:5-6. "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man."

Deuteronomy 29:24-25. "All the nations will say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?' Then men will say, 'Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.'"

8. Acknowledge that God has permitted a great outbreak of sin against his revealed will, and that we do not know all the reasons why he would permit such a thing now, when it was in his power to stop it.

Deuteronomy 29:29. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

Romans 11:33-37 "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

9. Express the truth that Satan is a massive reality in the universe that conspires with our own sin and flesh and the world to hurt people and to move people to hurt others, but stress that Satan is within and under the control of God.

Job 1:6, 12, 21-22; 2:6-10. "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. . . . Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.' So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. . . [After losing all his possessions and his ten children Job says] 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. . . . [After a second meeting in heaven] the LORD said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.' Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. . . . Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?'"

Job 42:2, 11. "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. . . . Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him.

Luke 22:31-32. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

2 Corinthians 12:7-9. "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Compare the following two perspectives on the cause of Jesus' death.

Luke 22:3-4 "Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them."

Acts 4:27-28. "Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

10. Express that these terrorists rebelled against the revealed will of God and did not love God or trust him or find in God their refuge and strength and treasure, but scorned his ways and his Person.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-2. "Finally, brethren, pray for us . . . that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith."

Galatians 5:6. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love."

Galatians 5:16. "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."

James 4:1-4. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

11. Since rebellion against God was at the root of this act of murder, let us all fear such rebellion in our own hearts, and turn from it, and embrace the grace of God in Christ, and renounce the very impulses that caused this tragedy.

Proverbs 3:5-6. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."

Psalm 9:10. "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You."

Psalm 56:3. "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You."

12. Point the living to the momentous issues of sin and repentance in our own hearts and the urgent need to get right with God through his merciful provision of forgiveness in Christ, so that a worse fate than death will not overtake us.

Luke 13:1-5. "Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'"

Revelation 9:18-21. "[As a judgment of God] a third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. . . . The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols . . . and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts."

Revelation 16:8-9. "The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory."

13. Remember that even those who trust in Christ may be cut down like these thousands who were in New York and Washington, but that does not mean they have been abandoned by God or not loved by God even in those agonizing hours of suffering. God's love conquers even through calamity.

Romans 8:35-39. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG, WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

14. Mingle heart-wrenching weeping with unbreakable confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God who rules over and through the sin and the plans of rebellious people.

Lamentations 3:32 "For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly Or grieve the sons of men."

Genesis 45:7 [Joseph said to his brothers who sinfully sold him into Egypt] "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance."

Genesis 50:20 [Joseph says to his fearing brothers] "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."

Other texts on the absolute sovereignty of God over all things: Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 46:9-10; Lamentations 3:37; Amos 3:6; Proverbs 16:33; Exodus 4:11; 1 Samuel 2:6-7; 2 Samuel 12:15-18; John 9:2-3; James 4:15; 1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; Matthew 10:29.

15. Trust God for his ability to do the humanly impossible, and bring you through this nightmare and, in some inscrutable way, bring good out of it.

Romans 8:28. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Lamentations 3:21-24. "This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I have hope in Him.'"

2 Corinthians 1:8-9. "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead."

2 Corinthians 4:17. "Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison."

16. Explain, when the time is right, and they have the wherewithal to think clearly that one of the mysteries of God's greatness is that he ordains that some things come to pass which he forbids and disapproves of.

The clearest example is his ordaining that his Son be killed.

Acts 4:27-28. "Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

See the Appendix titled "Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God's Desire for All to Be Saved," in The Pleasures of God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 2000), pp. 313-340.

17. Express your personal cherishing of the sovereignty of God as the ground of all your hope as you face the human impossibilities of life. The very fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of our salvation and preservation hang on God's sovereignty over rebellious human wills.

Mark 10:24. "The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' They were even more astonished and said to Him, 'Then who can be saved?' Looking at them, Jesus said, 'With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.'"

Jeremiah 32:40. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me."

Hebrews 13:20-21. "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

18. Count God your only lasting treasure, because he is the only sure and stable thing in the universe.

Psalm 73:25-26. "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

19. Remind everyone that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21-23. "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . . . I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better."

2 Corinthians 5:7-9. "We walk by faith, not by sight - we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him."

20. Pray that God would incline their hearts to his word, open their eyes to his wonders, unite their hearts to fear him, and satisfy them with his love.

Psalm 119:36. "Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to gain."

Psalm 119:18. "Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law."

Psalm 86:11. "Unite my heart to fear Your name."

Psalm 90:14. "O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days."

21. At the right time sound the trumpet that all this good news is meant by God to free us for radical, sacrificial service for the salvation of men and the glory of Christ. Help them see that one message of all this misery is to show us that life is short and fragile and followed by eternity, and small, man-centered ambitions are tragic.

Acts 20:24. "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God."

Titus 2:14. "[Christ] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds."

Philippians 1:21. "To live is Christ."

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org