Today marks ten years since that fateful day. Six years ago today, I published my experience of 9/11. A portion follows here:
September 11, 2001, 9.55 am: I walk into my Biblical Foundations class at university and overhear a classmate saying something about a terrorist strike. I also hear something about the World Trade Centre towers falling. People shouldn’t joke about things like that. Imagine what that would be like, a skyscraper falling; just over an hour later I stand watching the news in the huge university amphitorium. The vivid, big-screen flashes of terror will never leave my mind.
Less than six weeks later I stand at ground zero, looking on in disbelief at a scene of utter destruction. There is no way to completely explain the atmosphere at ground zero, but a mixture of sorrow and horror is obvious on every face. The choking smoke mingles with the smell of rotting flesh. My eyes are stinging from the debris-choked air and all around I see nothing but pain. Every free surface is pasted with posters seeking information on missing loved-ones. Though there are thousands of people in sight, the atmosphere is quiet, contemplative, solemn.
As I peruse my photographs from that trip to Ground Zero ten years on, several stand out. In one, an Australian flag is strewn among the candles and flowers that cover the footpaths—an appropriate memorial to the ten Australians that died on 9/11 and a reminder that this attack was not against America merely, but against the western ideals that we hold dear.
In another, I’m standing next to Ground Zero underneath the sign for Fulton St. The significance of this is that my pastor at the time, John Vaughn, had been to Ground Zero a few weeks earlier and had pointed out that Ground Zero was right next to Fulton St. of the Fulton Street Revival. It was our prayer at the time that God would use 9/11 to bring similar revival.
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. With the benefit of time between then and now, let me share a few reflections:
- Terrorism is evil. It is the lowest form of cowardice.
- What happened that day was the beginning of a new level of Islamic aggression against the “Christian” west. The Muslims can be forgiven for mistaking the west as Christian since much of the west mistakes itself for Christian. Now, more than ever, we need to be clear about what it does and does not mean to be Christian. That said, if the Muslim fundamentalists had a more accurate view of the west as Secularist, they would still attack the west because the real issue is that the west is not Muslim—at least not yet.
- One of the most significant decisions coming out of 9/11 was the US White House decision to present this as an extremist problem rather than a problem with Islam itself. The White House made a concerted effort to affirm that Islam is not inherently extremist. This was a war on terror, not a war on Islam. Yet ten years later the war drags on. One has to ask the question, was this premise more expedient than accurate?
- We’ve now been at war for ten years. We’ve lost 29 diggers in the fight against terrorism. That’s less than a third of the 110 civilians we’ve lost to terrorism since 9/11. Was it right to go to war? Is it right to stay? Can the war be won? I wish I knew for sure.
- There is a sense in which we have already won the war on terror. What I mean is that you have probably never been substantially afraid of being blown up while shopping or driving or walking. When you send your kids to school, you probably don’t wonder if they’ll make it home safe. We basically live in safety. And regardless of the answers to the questions in the previous point, we owe that to our soldiers and the soldiers of other nations who put their lives on the line every day to keep Australia safe. We owe them gratitude and respect.
- 9/11 didn’t lead to a widespread revival of Christian faith. Certainly God worked through it in many lives, but there was no sustained growth in church attendance or reports of sweeping revival. Perhaps revival is not dependent on sensational world events. Perhaps we should be preaching Christ just as fervently now as we did just after the attacks. Perhaps God will send the increase when he chooses.
That’s enough of that. But I hope you’ll take some time today to reflect; to go to “the house of mourning” and “lay it to heart” (Eccl. 7:2).
God doesn’t owe us safety. Safety is a gracious trust from him to be used for his glory. And when safety is unsure, we are reminded that the world we live in is broken by sin—Adam’s sin and our sin. And we can remember that our greatest need for refuge is for refuge from God’s wrath. And we can remember that we have such refuge in Jesus Christ because he took God’s wrath for us!
We can rest and rejoice in that.
Grace to you.