Joel Osteen, the pastor of America’s largest church, said the 9/11 attacks raised questions that remain unanswered even at the 10th anniversary, but the tragedy also united Americans and couldn’t shatter their faith in God.
“As a pastor, I was just getting started and… it was hard to explain. It still is today,” Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, told The Washington Post’s “On Faith” in an interview Friday, hours before he addressed tens of thousands at the “Night of Hope” mega event in Pittsburgh.
“I think God gives every one of us our own will and unfortunately some people choose to do evil things with it,” On Faith quoted the megachurch pastor as saying. “So, there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense but we just continue to give people faith.”
Osteen did just that at the Pittsburg event at the Consol Energy Center on Friday night, two days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America. “We have to remember that God is in control, even when we don’t understand things,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted him as saying about the “Night of Hope” event. “God can give you a new beginning out of death, out of pain.”
Osteen has held over 100 “Night of Hope” events across the United States since 2004.
The pastor, preacher and author told On Faith that his first reaction after the 9/11 attacks was “shock and disbelief that somebody would do something like that.” It seemed “surreal.”
But, having grown mature years later, “I respond to it now with something like this: We don’t understand everything that happens. Faith is about trusting God when you have unanswered questions. It doesn’t take a lot of faith if you have everything figured out. So it’s just one of those things that you can’t explain but we can come back to the bigger picture of who God is, what I believe anyway: that God is good, God is for us, and that even in the difficult times God gives us the strength to make it through.”
To comfort those affected by the 9/11 attacks “we just say, ‘God’s got you in the palm of his hand.’ You gotta believe and trust.”
Osteen also found that it drew Americans “closer together as a nation.”
“It turned people to their faith… Our crowds were immediately bigger,” he said. “People realized that when there’s something devastating like that you have to have somewhere to turn to. You can’t necessarily turn to your job or your friends. You need to something higher. So I think it drew us closer together.”
Osteen added that 9/11 helped Americans prioritize things “in terms of people who were just working to make a living at all costs and not taking time for what’s really important – their family, and so on.” He said it also taught him to value “each day as a gift, more. You don’t know that you’re going to have tomorrow. I feel like that’s what it taught us as a nation.”
Asked if the terror attack challenged his faith in Jesus Christ, Osteen said it gave him a greater resolve and “a bigger understanding of how much I don’t know about God.”
“It let me know that there’s a lot of things that we don’t understand and I think the way that I’ve evolved as I’ve done this for the last 12 years since my dad died is I’ve learned to trust a whole lot more.”
“Nothing can snatch us away before our time,” Osteen quoted the Scriptures as saying. When someone has lost a 16-year-old son, that’s all you can tell them, “You know what, I don’t have the answer but I believe that nothing snatched him out of God’s hand. I believe he fulfilled his purpose.”
Osteen also said he did not hold all Muslims or Islam responsible for terrorism. “I always encourage them [his people] that this is a small group of people that are way off base. It’s not one religion; you can’t define them all as a whole.”
The pastor said he had sold millions of book in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. “The people are hungry, we may not see eye to eye on everything… I’ve spent too much time in India with my father and the Hindus and the Muslims were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Again, our faith is not the same but I could tell you they would do anything in the world for me.”
Osteen said in the face of tragedies we should not run from God – you run to God. “A big part of my message is that I always believe that God will bring you out better than you were before.
“Obviously some people were killed and hopefully they went to heaven to be with the Lord. But even for us behind, I do think you’ll come through it stronger, with a greater sense of confidence if you trust God. He’ll bring you out better.”