After eighteen years of remembering, the sights and sounds of the terrorist attack on America are familiar. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 two passenger airliners were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Many were killed upon impact. Others perished when the towers collapsed.
The nightmare continued when word was received that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. And still more horror was reported when an airplane went down in Somerset Country in Pennsylvania.
For many within the Christian community two questions arise: “What should be a biblical response to this terrorist activity?” and, “Where was God when America was attacked?”
Neither of these questions is easy to answer. Not all people will be united in their thoughts. Nevertheless, an attempt has to be made to address what is happening in the world.
First, what should be America’s response? The biblical answer can be summarized in one word, justice. Justice cries out that those who perpetrated these actions are pursed until they are caught and executed with swiftness. Psalm 82:3 declares that individuals have a responsibility to ”Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” To allow going unpunished those who planned, participated, and protected the perpetrators who slaughtered the innocent would be an evil equal to that of the initial act. The State has the right and the responsibility to wield the terrible swift sword so that people of conscience can sing again.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him!”
Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.”
Julia Ward Howe, Atlantic Monthly February, 1862
Beyond the question of what is to be a Christian response to this nightmare, is the haunting questions, “Where was God when America was attacked?”Let me suggest first of all that God was present prior to the planes striking their various targets. Had God so decreed the Arab plot could have been detected as easily as Queen Esther exposed the plans of Haman to the Persian king Ahasuerus, in the fifth century BC. The Prime Minister Haman hated Jews in general and the Jew, Mordecai in particular. It was his plan to destroy all the Israelites in the Persian Empire in a single day. But God allowed His plans to be exposed and the Jews were allowed to defend themselves.
In His providence God chose, in this instance, not to fully expose ahead of time the evil of men but to allow certain plans to proceed as was conceived in the wicked imaginations of their hearts.
This is not to suggest that God was immediately responsible for the carnage that was conveyed. It is to say that God is sovereignly in control over all things including the evil which men do. Sin is a great mystery. It cannot be fully understood why God has allowed sin into the universe He created but it is here in mystery form. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 the apostle Paul wrote, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” But we do not understand fully why that is so. Perhaps God knows that higher ends will be accomplished by the admission of sin than by its exclusion.
What is more certain is that God, in His sovereignty, knows how to turn what is wrong into something that is wonderful. The place of suffering and shame can become a place of triumph and glory. The greatest illustration of this truth is Calvary.
The plans to crucify Christ were known to the mind of God prior to their implementation. Nevertheless, the Father allowed the death of His Son so that grace might abound. The place of evil was transformed into the place of redemption. The sovereignty of God over sin was manifested. So it was that God was present prior to the attack on America. Jesus said that a bird cannot fall to the ground without the Father being aware of the fall (Matt. 10:29). And yet the creature does fall according to divine sovereignty.
Second, God was present during the moments of murder, mayhem, and madness. Consider the evidence.
While many lives were taken, others were miraculously spared. Even after the buildings collapsed cell phones could be heard ringing. From under the rubble precious lives lived to be rescued. Some of the most skeptical of news commentators have spoken of the miracle of the survival of some.
The collateral damage in the attack on America was not as severe as it might have been had all the plans of the terrorists been executed. Apparently the White House was targeted for destruction as well as the Capitol Building, not to mention Air Force One. In His mercy and providence God intervened. At strategic moments brave men and women gave their lives to bring a sky-jacked plane crashing into the ground in Pennsylvania rather than let it proceed to Washington, D.C. In many ways the restraining hand of God was present during the ordeal. God says to the evil that men do, “This far and no more.”
Third, it can be affirmed that after the attack on America God was present. The truth of this is also reflected in specific ways.
Elected officials in the highest echelons of government began to pray and lead the nation in moments of silence to encourage others to cry out to the God of heaven for mercy and grace. What national leaders forbid legally they suddenly were doing without shame or protest. Voices were lifted on the Capitol steps in unison to sing God Bless America with the emphasis on God.
A day of mourning and prayer was set aside. From the East Coast to the West. In the North and in the South the country was asked to mourn and weep and to pray on a Friday, the 14th of September. Since the bombings, churches have been sought out. People of all faiths have streamed into religious sanctuaries seeking peace and the face of the Lord afresh.
All across the country signs were erected: Pray for the USA. Religious institutions hung out a simple notice: Open for Prayer. And millions have found themselves on their faces asking for grace and mercy.
Will any good come out of the attack on America? Is the statement of Romans 8:28 true? Does God really work all things together for good? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”
Families have been drawn closer together. As the news of the bombings were reported many parents immediately went to the schools, or day care centers to get their children. Phone calls were made. Emails were hastily sent. People reached out to touch others with care and compassion.
Money and resources have been made available to help the victims of the bombings in any way possible.
The nation has been humbled and reminded not to trust in the false security that wealth and a strong military defense seems to offer. Our hope is in the Lord. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).
There is renewed patriotism. America is not a perfect nation but it is a great one. Sometimes, an individual can articulate some of those characteristics that have served to make America the most unique nation on the face of the earth. Several years ago from Toronto Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian television Commentator thought about the spirit of America and recorded his thoughts, which have been printed in the Congressional Record. Said Mr. Sinclair,
“This Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people on all the earth.
Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts.
None of these countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.
When France was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it.
When earthquakes hit distant cities, it is the United States that hurries in to help. This spring, 59 American communities were flattened by tornadoes. Nobody helped.
The Marshall Plan and the Truman Policy pumped billions of dollars into discouraged countries. Now newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent, warmongering Americans. I’d like to see just one of those countries that is gloating over the erosion of the United States dollar build its own airplane.
Does any other country in the world have a plane to equal the Boeing Jumbo Jet, the Lockheed Tri-Star, or the Douglas DC10? If so, why don’t they fly them?
Why do all the International lines except Russia fly American Planes? Why does no other land on earth even consider putting a man or woman on the moon?
You talk about Japanese technocracy, and you get radios. You talk about German technocracy, and you get automobiles. You talk about American technocracy, and you find men on the moon – not once, but several times – and safely home again. You talk about scandals, and the Americans put theirs right in the store window for everybody to look at. Even their draft-dodgers are not pursued and hounded. They are here on our streets, and most of them, unless they are breaking Canadian laws, are getting American dollars from Ma and Pa at home to spend here.
When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke.
I can name you 5000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don’t think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake. Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I’m one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them get kicked around. They will come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their nose at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of those. “Stand proud, America! Wear it proudly!”
Once more Americans are standing proud. There are not enough flags in production that can meet the demand as countless millions want to fly the flag and sing the songs of patriotism. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, one of Japan’s leaders said, “I am afraid we have awakened a sleeping giant.”
If the terrorist wanted to frighten the country and divided it they have failed in their mission. The country is not frightened but ready to fight—and fight we will. The country is not divided but united more than it has been since 1991. A renewed sense of patriotism is part of the good that has come out of tragedy.
Perhaps the greatest good the Lord will work is an opportunity to share the gospel by reminding people to prepare to meet God. The men and women who walked into the Word Trade Towers, those who climbed on board the airplanes, or worked in the Pentagon did not suspect they would die before the day was done.
On a beautiful sunny September day Death stalked unsuspecting victims. Bodies were suddenly crushed beneath glass and steel or torn apart with the impact of a crash landing. From the windows of the Twin Towers some people joined hands and then jumped to a certain death. “I saw people jumping out of windows, the building just blew up, people just kept jumping and jumping and jumping and you can see that they were alive because they were just flailing,” one New York witness said.
Because no one knows the day or the hour of their death people must learn afresh to live in light of eternity. We are all heading for the grave. It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I ready to die? Am I ready for the judgment? Am I prepared to meet God?”
As Christians we have the opportunity to seize the moment and talk to others about the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
As Christians we have the promise of eternal life and the hope of the resurrection. Let us hasten to invite people to come to Christ upon gospel repentance. Let us go and tell the world our hope is in the Lord and so it is well, it is well with our souls.