Jerry Falwell touched a live wire of American grief and anger when he opined that the terrorist strikes of September 11 were God's judgment against the nation's sins of decadence and secularism. Falwell's 700 Club remarks were an easy target for his critics, but he was hardly alone in trying to find theological meaning in the horror. Many Christians said the terror strikes represented God's "removing a covering of protection" from the United States as judgment for national apostasy, as if America enjoyed a spotless record of righteousness until the 1960s.

At the other end of the theological spectrum, repentance is at best a bizarre concept. Oprah Winfrey baldly pronounced during an interfaith prayer service at Yankee Stadium that each victim of the terror strikes instantly became an angel. We sympathize with the impulse to find comfort in such thoughts. But a "salvation by sudden death" clause is facile and theologically reckless. It is the equivalent of telling grief-stricken parents that a drunken driver killed their 8-year-old daughter because "God needed another angel in heaven."

Speculation about the reasons for the terror strikes also has been popular on the political left, which has suggested that America somehow deserved to suffer because of its wealth, its support of Israel, its militarism, or simply for its being a superpower.

Let us recognize, then, that pinning blame on others is a natural (if hazardous) part of grieving the more than 6,000 victims of the terrorist strikes. But let us begin thinking about real repentance.

As Jesus himself observes (Luke 13:1-5), these frightening reminders of our mortality are ideal times to get right with God. Our repentance should begin not with the broadest possible picture (How ...

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