Today as we reflect upon that somber event which took place twenty years ago, most of us, if not all of us, who were beyond the years of early childhood can recall that fateful day as if it were yesterday. I was on in my first semester of my first year of seminary at Toronto Baptist Seminary. I had just left my dorm room and was walking across the parking lot to my first class which was to begin at 9 a.m. eastern time. I was met in the parking lot by a classmate walking back toward the dorms who informed me that a plane had just hit one of the Twin Towers, so we began heading to my room, which was closest, to turn on the TV and watch the news. As we stood there watching the first tower burn, we were discussing and wondering out loud if some small plane was not paying attention and crashed into the building.
Then at 9:03, the second jumbo airline crashed into the second tower right before our eyes. We were shocked and stunned beyond belief as we watched in horror what had just happened. We instantly knew this was no accident. Then just thirty-four minutes later we began seeing reports of a third plane having crashed into the Pentagon. At 10 a.m. the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed and three minutes later Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. At 10:28 the north tower collapsed. For the better part of two hours, my wife, my friend, and I and several other students who had gathered around the television, stood there in complete silence. It all seemed so surreal. It was hard to believe this was actually happening. It was difficult to comprehend just how many people might be inside those buildings. Having worked in EMS for the past six years leading up to seminary, I knew there were liking dozens, if not hundreds of firefighters inside those buildings. And I was correct. When it was all over, 344 firefighters had lost their lives, and 2,206 were killed inside the World Trade Center alone.
Today many are reflecting upon that day—the day the world stood still—and are asking and wondering what we learned from it all. This is an especially important question as we are still processing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, leaving it in control of the Taliban, understanding there is a high likelihood Afghanistan will become the new safe haven for future terrorists. Many are wondering and asking if we learned anything from 9/11? Was there anything to learn? From a geopolitical perspective, there are undoubtedly many things that could be learned and, hopefully, have been learned. But I won’t seek to answer those questions here. But there are two things I hope 9/11 has taught us, two things I hope Americans and the world will take away with from the tragic events that happened on this day, twenty years ago.
First, life is fleeting and no one is guaranteed tomorrow. If there is one thing we can and should learn from 9/11 is that no one is in control of his life or his destiny. On the morning of 9/11, 2,958 people woke that morning and got dressed, maybe had breakfast and a cup of coffee, and headed out the door to board an airplane or to go to work, not having any idea that in a few short hours their lives on this earth would abruptly come to an end. So often we think and plan and live our lives as though we know we are going to live until we’re ninety years old. The reality is we don’t know. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who brought in an abundance of crops one year. So much so, he didn’t know what to do with it all because he did not have the room to store it all. So he comes up with this brilliant idea to tear down his barns and build larger ones, and then he says to himself, “Self, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But then God says to him, “You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (12:16-20). We spend so much time thinking and planning and preparing for retirement, and how we are going to survive and live in our old age, not knowing if we’ll even see old age. Many of us will never live long enough to see retirement. Yet we all know that someday we are all going to die. Death is inevitable. It is unavoidable. Thus, should we not spend more time thinking about and planning for death than we do for retirement?
The second lesson, I hope we can learn from the events of 9/11 is that in this world, only God is dependable and trustworthy. Only God—the God of the Bible, the God of creation—will always be there and will never let you down. To place our trust and hope in government, national defense, the U.S. military, being bordered by two oceans, personal firearms, a political party, the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court, our public education, national scientists, vaccines against Covid, or anything else that can be found or is related to this world is naïve at best, and downright foolish at worst. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We will have tribulation in this world, Jesus warned us. 9/11 was not the first horrific event we have experienced as a nation, and it certainly won’t be the last. The 9/11 Commission may have identified and solved significant problems in our national security system, but they did not solve the problem of evil. Thus, the only place to find true and abiding peace and security in this world is to find it in Christ. For this reason when John writes to the seven churches in Asia Minor, he says to them: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:4). True and abiding peace comes from God because he is the one “who is and who was and who is to come.” He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).
It’s ironic that many of the photos from 9/11 of people looking at the smoke billowing from the Twin Towers show people looking up. I don’t presume to know the mind of God, so I don’t know exactly why God foreordained 9/11 to take place. But here’s what I do know, whatever else God was doing in that tragic event, he was getting people’s attention. He was wanting people to look up. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” As you reflect upon the events of 9/11 on this day, I hope you look up and look to God.
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