September 11, Ten Years Later
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
I have here a local newspaper, The Rock Hill Herald, dated Wednesday, September 12,2001. the headline, as you can see, is US STUNNED.
The opening paragraph reads, “In the most devastating terrorist onslaught ever waged against the United States, knife-wielding hijackers crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center on Tuesday, toppling its twin 110-story towers. The deadly calamity was witnessed on televisions across the world as another plane slammed into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed outside Pittsburgh.”
Where were you? I can still remember exactly where I was. I was here at church. Dot Yarborough called me, and without giving me much in the way of details she told me that a plane had crashed into the WTC. At that time, we did not know that it was a terrorist attack. I went home and turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane strike the second tower. I remember the shock of seeing the towers collapse, and then seeing the devastation at the Pentagon. I remember wondering if United flight 93 was highjacked as well, and then seeing the wreckage of the crash site in Pennsylvania. In many ways, we’re still trying to make sense of the events of that September 11.
We try to relate what happened to our previous experiences. I remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated, and trying to make sense out of that. Never did really. I remember where I was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. I was watching it on TV, and I felt overwhelmed by sadness.
After 9/11, I felt that same kind of sadness, but I also felt a lot of anger--because 9/11 was not an accident. It was a deliberate malicious crime.
Today it is ten years later. So I have a question for you. Are we better off? Ten years later is the world a better place to live for you and for everyone? In the September 2011, AARP Bulletin (Yes, I am old enough to receive the AARP Bulletin. Old enough and then some, but let that pass), they did a survey around the question, Do you think that 9/11 changed the country? The survey divided their respondents into two groups—under 50 and over 50. One subquestion they asked was: Do you think 9/11 changed the country for better or for worse. I was somewhat surprised to see that the majority of both groups, the older group and the younger group, said it changed the country for worse. In other words, to answer my question, the majority of people in the AARP poll said, we are worse off.
I can understand that. The national debt stands at over 14 trillion dollars. We have spent over a trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our economy seems to be staggering along. In SC, unemployment remains at 10%, businesses are getting by, but everybody is nervous about the future. Congress seems hopelessly polarized and unable to do much of anything. The President seems uncertain about his course. The feeling is that nobody is in charge, and we are not going in a good direction. We have lost thousands of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and been there for 9 years. And we are still worried about terrorism. The AARP poll indicates that a majority of young people feel pessimistic about the country. Given their job prospects, I do not blame them. There has been a downshift in the labor market. College graduates now take jobs formerly filled by high school graduates; high school grads take jobs that those who do not have diplomas took, and I do not know what happens to that last group. So it is easy to be filled with gloom about the future. It is easy to say that the world is a dark and evil place.
And to some extent, it is. This is one the lessons of 9/11. Before the attack on the WTC, Americans tended to be naïve about evil. We had an almost Pollyanna attitude about the world. We thought that everybody respects us, likes us, looks up to us, and admires us. 9/11 vividly reminded us that is not so. I am not saying that we should not be optimistic. I am saying that we should not be unaware of evil. Jesus was not naïve when he began his last trip to Jerusalem. He knew that he had powerful enemies who wanted him dead, but he went anyway.
Jesus understood that bad things happen every day. Americans tend to think emphasize positive thinking and ignore any negatives. For example, during the same time period as the attack on the WTC, we ignored a viscous war in Africa.
It is called the Second Congo War or the Great War of Africa. It began in August 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire), and officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took power (though hostilities continue to this day). It was the largest war in modern African history, it directly involved eight African nations, as well as about 25 armed groups. By 2008 the war and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation. Millions more were living in refugee camps in in neighboring countries. Despite a formal end to the war in July 2003 and an agreement by the former belligerents to create a government of national unity, 1,000 people died daily in 2004 from easily preventable cases of malnutrition and disease.
My point is the WTC was not an isolated example. War and terrorism go on all the time. This is the normal state of the world. The gospel of Matthew speaks of Rachel's children weeping at the birth of Jesus. Do you remember that story of ancient terrorism? When he heard that a king had been born Bethlehem, the lunatic King Herod ordered the slaughter of every baby in the city under age 2. Thus, the birth of Christ is soaked with blood. That is something to think about as you prepare Christmas in a few months.
But even though the world seems evil, we are called to a better way. We are called to make the world better.
And we are uplifted, we are encouraged, when we see good people doing good things. After the planes hit the WTC, it is amazing that so many people acted so well. The firefighters, the police, the EMTs went in to save others and many of them were killed. The people on United flight 93, when they realized what was happening, fought back and saved the lives of many.
And we want to remember the courage of the survivors. Remember Lisa Beamer. The following story is from People Magazine December 21 2001.
“A young mother recently widowed, with another child on the way—it's hard to imagine a more poignant description of vulnerability. Yet in the case of Lisa Beamer, 32, something like the opposite applies. Instead of crumbling when her husband, software salesman Todd Beamer, 32, died on Sept. 11 after apparently helping to overpower hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93—and rallying passengers with his now famous phrase, "Let's roll"—Lisa has emerged as a symbol of national strength. During polished appearances on shows like Oprah and Today, she spoke eloquently of the need to move on in life without hatred. On Sept. 20, at the nation's Capitol, she received a presidential tribute during George Bush's globally televised address on the War on Terror.”
“Just over a month after her husband's death, Beamer summoned the courage to board the same Newark-San Francisco flight on which he had perished, telling reporters, "I won't be held captive by fear." These days she faces a more daunting challenge. Now in her ninth month of pregnancy, Beamer will soon bring home a new child … to the four-bedroom dream house she shared with Todd .. and their sons David, 3, and Drew, 22 months. "It's the one thing I'm afraid of doing alone," she tearfully admits. And yet, as countless fans who have come to know Beamer will agree, she will surely prevail. "You've given a lot of people a lot of hope," CNN's Larry King told her recently. "You're an extraordinary lady, Lisa." [http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20136125,00.html.]
The world admires Todd and Lisa Beamer but the secular media did not carry the story of their faith. The magazine Modern Reformation ["This is My Father's World" Sept./Oct. 2002 Vol. 11 No. 5 Page number(s): 24-31] says,
“However, what is woven behind the headlines, over the course of the year, is how Todd Beamer's faith sustained him in his final minutes and how Lisa Beamer's faith has buttressed her during a year of grief. Whether she is talking publicly with Larry King or Diane Sawyer or being quietly interviewed for this story, she returns repeatedly to the sovereignty of God in the face of September 11th. She also gives testimony to God's providence and the fact that he does powerfully preserve and govern "all his creatures, and all their actions," as the Westminster Shorter Catechism expresses it. "God knew the terrible choices the terrorists would make and that Todd Beamer would die as a result. He knew my children would be left without a father and me without a husband," Lisa says. "Yet in his sovereignty and in his perspective on the big picture, he knew it was better to allow the events to unfold as they did rather than redirect Todd's plans to avoid death." She adds candidly, "I can't see all the reasons he might have allowed this when I know he could have stopped it. . . . I don't like how his plan looks from my perspective right now, but knowing that he loves me and can see the world from start to finish helps me say, 'It's OK.'"
Later in the same article she says, “If we believe wholeheartedly, each moment, that our destiny rests in the hands of Jesus Christ-the one with ultimate love and ultimate power-what do we have to be concerned about?"
In Romans 8:28 we find out exactly what Todd and Lisa Beamer believe that enables them to face such horrible circumstances with courage and class. The verse says that God is working in “all things”--not “most things,” not “pleasant things.” God is working in all things, the pleasant and the tragic, the exciting and the horrific, the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Now this raises some really difficult questions when we apply this verse to a horrific event like 9/11. Paul is not saying that God causes all things. Clearly awful things like September 11 happen, and God is not the author of those actions. Now I know that there is a problem here. On the one hand, we say that God is in charge of everything, and on the other hand we say that God is not in charge of everything. Christians have never been able to work this out. Some people say that we have free will, others follow The Westminster Shorter Catechism saying God governs "all his creatures, and all their actions." Or to put it another way, what happens is what God decides to happen. So, with regard to the attack on the WTC, did God allow that, or did people do that? My vision of the loving God Jesus talked about does not allow me to believe that God did it. We know who is responsible for the September 11 attacks. We know their names. They are the ones that hijacked the planes and crashed them.
Romans 8:28 is not saying God causes all things. It is saying that in the midst of all things—including horrible things people do—God is at work.
We may not see how God could possibly be at work in a horrible situation. God’s fingerprints are hidden and secret at times. It is only in retrospect that we can see how God was working in the midst of tragic experiences.
Think about Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph’s older brothers hated him, and they sold him into slavery, but Joseph became a high level official in the Egyptian government. When a famine came to the ancient Middle East, it was Joseph’s foresight and management that enabled the Egyptians to have enough food to sustain their nation. Since the famine was widespread, Joseph’s brothers eventually came to Egypt to buy food. He revealed himself to his brothers, and his entire family moved to Egypt. When Joseph’s brothers admitted their fear that Joseph might seek revenge, Joseph said, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good in order to save people from starvation” (Gen 50:20).
God's people believe that God is working in every situation, no matter how painful. They also know that God’s purpose is good. Now Romans 8:28 does not say that God is a Pollyana who calls bad things good. Clearly some things that happen are bad, like the attack on the WTC. What this verse is telling us is that in the midst of both good and bad circumstances, God is working for our good.
Think of how you bake a cake from scratch. Some of the ingredients you put into a cake would be pretty gross to eat by themselves. Sugar and butter taste okay on their own, but who likes to eat flour, raw eggs or baking soda? Some ingredients are good and some are bad, at least from a taste perspective. Yet when they are mixed together in a certain way and cooked at a certain temperature for a certain period of time, all those good and bad ingredients make something that tastes great. You need both the good and the bad tasting ingredients to get the cake.
God’s good purpose is the same way in that he works both good and bad circumstances together to fulfill his good purpose. This is something we know by faith. Life is good. Life is valuable--your life, other people's lives, even the lives of animals and plants. All that God created is good, and God is still working through his creation to make it all better, and we are called to be workers of God. How do we know all this? By faith. Romans 8:28 is a statement of faith. Christians are people who walk with God by faith.
Genelle Guzman-McMillan was the last survivor to be rescued from ground zero. Genelle worked for the Port Authority on the 64th floor of the north tower. Prior to September 11 she had been interested in the Christian faith, occasionally attending church at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, but she was more interested in partying and nightclub hopping than in responding to God’s calling. But when she was the last survivor pulled from debris of the towers, that got her attention and she committed her life to Jesus Christ. She told Time magazine that her life has completely changed since she responded to God’s calling to a relationship. That she survived at all is a miracle, but God was with her. She had 4 major surgeries and was in the hospital for 5 weeks but God brought her through it all and she realized that God was working in her life for God's good purpose.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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