Has it really been fifteen years since the terrorist attack of 9/11? I can remember the details associated with that day as though it was yesterday. I actually was standing in line to get an entrance pass to attend a meeting at the Health and Human Services Commission in Austin. There was a television in the area where security was located. Two other men were watching the news. A plane had just crashed into the first tower. I subsequently joined what was quickly becoming a small group standing in view of the television as the second plane hit the second tower.
Somehow the meeting I was scheduled to attend in the building didn’t carry with it the compelling interest it previously held. Honestly, it was with heavy heart that I eventually moved away from the viewing area near security and went inside the large room where my scheduled meeting was taking place. I found myself hoping that HHSC would subsequently cancel the meeting so I could get back to watching the news, but they did not.
Yesterday I refreshed my memory of the number of deaths associated with the 9/11 attacks. It was certainly one of the darkest days in our nation’s history. The terrorist attack took the lives of 2,996 people and injured over 6,000 others. In addition, there is no possible way to calculate the number of people whose lives were forever changed and who from that day forward lived with an empty chair and a hole in their heart. For that matter, whose live wasn’t forever changed by that event?
One of the men in our church was on duty as a firefighter in Pennsylvania when United Airlines Flight #93 crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He’ll never forget the experience of the 24-hour shift he worked at the crash site. The airplane fell short of its intended target because the crew and passengers fought back against the terrorists. Otherwise, the death count would have been significantly higher.
Could the horror of that experience have really been a decade and a half ago? In so many ways, it all still seems so current. It still seems painfully real. Let me ask it this way: “What really has changed?” The war on terrorism continues to rage. The face of the enemy is often difficult to identify. There is confusion. There is frustration. There is fear.
Based on my memory and this is anecdotal, “In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a groundswell of recognition that as Americans we must set aside our differences. We needed to unite together as a country and we needed to turn to God as our protector and shield. It was only then that we could move forward in solidarity to protect all that we held dear.
At the memorial service held at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. three days later, Rev. Billy Graham expressed it this way: “A tragedy like this could have torn our country apart, but instead it has united us. So those perpetrators who took this on to tear us apart, it has worked the other way – it has backlashed. We are more united than ever before. I think this was exemplified in a very moving way when the members of our Congress stood shoulder to shoulder and sang, “God Bless America.”
Rev. Max Lucado captured that same theme in his prayer entitled “Do It Again Lord”. The prayer was shared at a national prayer vigil on Saturday, September 15, 2001. It expressed in part :
“…We are sad, Father. For as the innocent are buried, our innocence is buried as well. We thought we were safe. Perhaps we should have known better. But we didn’t…
“And so we come to you. We don’t ask you for help; we beg you for it. We don’t request it; we implore it. We know what you can do. We’ve read the accounts. We’ve pondered the stories and now we plead, Do it again, Lord. Do it again…
“We thank you, dear Father, for these hours of unity. Disaster has done what discussion could not. Doctrinal fences have fallen. Republicans are standing with Democrats. Skin colors have been covered by the ash of burning buildings. We thank you for these hours of unity…”
Unfortunately, and once again this is based on my perception, the sense of unity and resolve to be a nation under God didn’t last long. Sadly, It didn’t last very long at all.
One of the things I found most puzzling about our posture related to the tragedy was the varied reactions. Some asserted that the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 was an expression of God’s wrath. Others clearly (and in my mind) appropriately credited the forces of evil.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, Frontline, a PBS program, presented a special edition entitled ‘Faith and Doubt at Grand Zero’. The presentation was a documentary describing ways people have responded to the question: ‘Where Was God on 9/11?’
Saturday I pulled up the transcript of that documentary. What I found was both disturbing and thought provoking. For example, one minister said: “The face of God for me was one that was strong, secure, consistent, a face while at times seemed distant, could more or less be counted on to be there, who keeps things in order – the sun would come up, the sun would go down- who’d provide, could be counted on. After September 11, the face of God was a blank slate for me. God couldn’t be counted on the ways I thought God could be counted on. That’s what I felt as I stood at Ground Zero. God seemed absent. And it was frightening because the attributes that I had depended upon had all be stripped away. And I was left with nothing but that thing we call faith. But faith in what? I wasn’t so sure”. Because of the length of the document, I mention it only for reference.
I’ll simply close with a portion of the comments Rev. Billy Graham made at the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. They were filled with wisdom and hope. With a heart overflowing with compassion, Billy Graham shared the following:
“Today we come together in this service to confess our need of God. We’ve always needed God from the very beginning of this nation. But today we need Him especially. We’re involved in a new kind of warfare. And we need the help of the Spirit of God.
“Here in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us the symbol of the cross. For the Christian, the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for He took them upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’
“The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil and death and hell. Yes, there is hope.
“I’ve become an old man now, and I’ve preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago.
“Several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, Ambassador Andrew Young closed his talk with a quotation from the old hymn ‘How Firm a Foundation.’
“This week we watched in horror as planes crashed into the steel and glass of the World Trade Center. Those majestic towers, built on solid foundations, were examples of prosperity and creativity. When damaged, those buildings plummeted to the ground, imploding in upon themselves. Yet, underneath the debris, is a foundation that was not destroyed. Therein lies the truth of that hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.”
“Yes, our nation has been attacked, buildings destroyed, lives lost. But now we have a choice: whether to implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually as a people and a nation; or to choose to become stronger through all of this struggle, to rebuild on a solid foundation.
“And I believe that we are starting to rebuild on that foundation. That foundation is our trust in God. And in that faith, we have the strength to endure something as difficult and as horrendous as what we have experienced this week.
“This has been a terrible week with many tears. But it also has been a week of great faith. In that hymn, ‘How Firm a Foundation,’ the words say, ‘Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will give thee aid;/I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,/Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.’
“My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and that as we trust in Him we will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us.
“We know also that God will give wisdom and courage and strength to the President and those around him. And this will be a day that we will remember as a Day of Victory.
May God bless you all.”
May we never forget that God’s grace is sufficient for every need. Whether it is a national crisis or a personal tragedy, the overwhelming impact is best filtered through an awareness of God’s presence and his promise to redeem all that touches our lives by his equipping nature to ensure that all things work together for good to them that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
All My Best!