Leading up to the Christmas season in 2009 my wife and I were looking at buying a plane ticket for her to go see her family in England. It was a last minute decision and we were planning on the visit being a surprise for Danni's parents. Danni flew out on Christmas day. A week before Christmas Danni, my wife, looked at a plane ticket for her to fly.
Our friend Kose was coming into town with some Japanese friends on Christmas day for a Christian conference and I was supposed to pick them up from the airport. They were supposed to be flying intro Grand Rapids from Detroit on a plane coming from Amsterdam. Some of the Christians from our church, the Nicholson's, had organized a Christmas dinner for them in their home. I went to the Nicholson's to wait for out Japanese friends to arrive when we heard on the news that there had been a terrorist attack on a flight coming in from Amsterdam, "could that be the flight Kose and his friends were on!?"
Thankfully, they were on the flight that arrived just after the one with the terrorist on it; and the terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had a faulty bomb that only hurt himself. My Japanese friends were still detained on their plane for 7 hours and had all their baggage searched. When they finally got to Grand Rapids at 11 pm they were just thankful to get out of the airport. We had a great time eating Christmas dinner until about one in the morning.
A week before Christmas Danni looked at a plane ticket for her to fly out of Detroit on Christmas day. It was a Friday and so we were going to wait until my paycheck was in the bank before she bought the ticket. But when she got online that afternoon the ticket was unavailable and she had to fly out of Chicago instead.
What did we learn from all this?
Whenever a terrorist attacks, whatever their motivation, we are reminded that what we believe matters. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (nicknamed the underwear bomber because of the location his dud bomb was hidden)decided to try and kill hundreds of innocent civilians because he believed God told him to. No doubt he was coaxed into it by other al-Qaida members, who promised him riches and virgins in heaven and often prey on young poor men like Umar, promising them that they will take care of their families after they die. Whatever the circumstances, Umar's decision to try and kill people was based on his religious belief. This does not mean that religious beliefs are wrong. Just because something can be abused does not make it wrong. Children can be abused, power can be abused, money can be abused but they can also be used for great good when they are used the right way. The same is true of religion, when the right religion is discovered it can do great good. The greatest ethical belief system in the world is Christianity, Jesus is the only teacher who promoted complete sacrificial love and He demonstrated how far He was willing to go to forgive His enemies when He went to the cross to die. He did not do this to get revenge on His enemies, but to forgive them. That is what He kept saying on the cross "Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."
The other thing that we learned from this is that things that we find frustrating, like having tickets disappear and then having to reschedule our plans can often be God's way of protecting us. Although God often does allow bad things to happen, like 9/11, He also protects us from many other horrible things that could happen. Thankfully we don't have to remember Christmas 2009 as the day a plane blew up in the Detroit airport. Some people think that because there is so much evil in the world that they can't believe in God. There are two problems that immediately present themselves when that type of argument is given. First, if evil exists, that must mean that good exists as well. Evil by definition is a deviation from the way things should be. So who decides the way things should be? People? People often can tell when they don't like something, but they have many versions of the way things should be. In order to have moral laws there has to be a moral law giver, hence God.
The second problem with disbelieving in God because of all the evil in the world is that it doesn't make the pain go away. In fact it makes the pain 1000 times worse because there is no hope. As an atheist, if something bad happens, you just have to accept it as the way things are. This leads to apathetic nihilism because there is no longer a way things should be, there is just the way things are. People that don't believe in God reject this and say that they do have hope for humanity, but if humanity is eventually going to fade into a black oblivion when the Sun collapses, why care?
So How Do We Know When God Is Speaking?
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had one thing right, God does speak. But he mistook a lie for the voice of God. The way to find out if God is speaking is to look into His word. We know that the Bible is God's word because it is consistent with the reality that we live in. It is historically accurate, it is consistent with itself, it is honest about its main characters and it rings true in our hearts more than any other religious book because the Holy Spirit actually teaches people who are serious about finding out the truth. This may seem illogical to some, but it really is not unreasonable.
The question then is: can you know what the Bible is saying? The only way to find out is to read it. Sure there have been people who claimed to have been following the Bible when they did horrible things, but are those things consistent with what God tells us to do in His word? You have to check it out for yourself. What I think you'll discover, if you're honest, is that God loves people and He wants to protect them, but He has allowed them to make real choices that can end up causing good or ill for other people, but ultimately God is in control. When we come to Him we can have meaning and purpose and become part of His plan, which stretches far beyond the little world we live in now.