Where were you when the world stopped turning? More reflections on 911

September 11, 2013 by

<!--[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]-->

There are events in history that impact us so deeply that the images and timing of them are burned into our collective consciousness forever—the assassination of JFK, Neil Armstrong and his one giant leap for mankind, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrating over Florida on a chilly January morning. The defining historical event of the past 20 years is now known to posterity simply by three single digits: 9-1-1.

September 11, 2001, just a dozen years ago from this very date. Virtually all of us remember vividly where we were. We recall being confused over the early report that a small plane seems to have crashed into the World Trade Center. We remember being stupefied as we watched on live television as a second airliner appeared like a shadow in the corner of our screens then implanted in a massive fire ball in the upper stories the South Tower of the WTC.  A watching world knew that something was terribly wrong. Shortly, news stations delivered the horrifying truth of two similar incidents: a jet had buried itself in the side of the Pentagon, another had crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. America, its native soil left largely untouched by two world wars, was under attack. Terrorism had come to the Land of the Free.

By the time the smoke and dust cleared from Manhattan’s two fallen towers, the numbers would tell a gut-wrenching story: more than 3,000 dead, many of them children, many of them firefighters and rescue workers. They were our neighbors, our friends. And in the span of one gorgeous September morning, they were gone.  Country music superstar Alan Jackson was among the many who wrote songs attempting to deal with heartache and psychological fallout untold by bare numbers: “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” he sang. Darryl Worley asked us, a few months later, “Have you forgotten? We had neighbors still inside, going through a living hell.”  New York’s skyline had changed drastically and so had America.

In the aftermath, heroic stories emerged that encouraged us. Passengers aboard the flight that went down in Pennsylvania bravely fought the hijackers, overcame them and caused the plane, which was intended for the White House, to fall in an unpopulated area. We learned of firefighters and policemen making miraculous rescues at Ground Zero. But we were different. America, we learned, was not infallible. America, like any nation, is vulnerable and deeply, deeply fallible.

Where were you on that most beautiful and tragic of fall mornings? I was attending and working at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. We were minutes away from convening our regular Tuesday morning chapel service when the first airliner crashed into the North Tower. I was with my colleagues in the communications office where I worked, sitting down to a bagel following an 8 a.m. hermeneutics class. I watched it all on TV in rapt awe. Slowly, I was joined at the screen by my friends and colleagues as they filtered into the office for what we all thought would be a typical day’s work and study. Over the next few minutes grown men wept as first one, then another tower collapsed to the ground. We knew there were people in there. Hundreds of them. There was an eerie silence about that room, though most of us were paid talkers and communicators. We simply did not have words to describe the scene unfolding before us, nor did we have categories that included our homeland under attack. We were/are Americans, after all. I called my wife at her workplace to check on her and we cried together. I’ll never forget Dr. Mohler, our seminary president, making the announcement in chapel that the second tower had fallen and then calling us to prayer. Afternoon classes were cancelled. I half-heartedly handled media interviews and wrote a couple of news stories on the events as they related to the Christian worldview, then I went home, and, like all of you, rejoined the broadcast and sat in shocked silence for hours as the mortifying images of the day’s events scrolled past.

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day? Surely you remember. But what did you learn, what did I learn from those tragic events? If we truly believe that God causes all things to work together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), then we believe that God had a plan and a purpose for 911. As I read Scripture and consider the events of 911 from the distance of a decade’s worth of reflection, here are a few lessons I learned from 911:

  •        God’s absolute kingship over men and the affairs of men provides me with comfort in a way nothing else does. God is sovereign. Even over 911. God is good. He is wise. We can trust Him, even when (and especially when) the worlds stops turning.
  •        America is not the Kingdom of God. America can and may someday fall. Rome did. Babylon did. Assyria did. The City of God alone is the Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). I must rest all my hope in that Kingdom.
  •        Safety is a mirage. Everything I saw that morning told me that the world was beautiful, firm, unshakable. That September morning was beautiful like a painting, a precursor of Fall. It looked safe, dependable, immovable. It was only a mirage. The world is deeply fallen and enslaved to the seed of the serpent. I do not know what a day may bring. God has not promised me safety, but he has promised me an imperishable inheritance through the cross of Jesus Christ, through the good news of the Gospel, through my union with Christ. There is only safety in His arms. Man is susceptible to death. Man knows not his time (Eccl. 9:12). Job said it best: “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
  •        Religion is not the Gospel. In the aftermath of 911, many diverse faiths sought to come together and arrive at some consensus so that perhaps man could inaugurate peace in this dangerous cosmos. It was largely a useless exercise, however, as that “interfaith” movement excluded the one thing needful for genuine heart change: the Gospel. The world’s religions are merely fallen man’s attempts to quiet a guilty conscience and/or build a tower of Babel to heaven and commandeer the keys to the kingdom and bring God down. The Gospel is a story that only God could write. The Gospel is a story that alone possesses the power to set guilty hearts free. Mere religion is impotent to do that and 911 serves as a stark reminder of the deepest needs of the human heart and our duty to go and proclaim the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Only redeemed sinners will find genuine peace and unity with other redeemed sinners as members of the church for whom Jesus died.
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <![endif]-->