I remember the precise place I was at when the twin towers were attacked on September 11, 2001. Most of us do. I was sitting in a Hardees fast food restaurant with a pastor and another elder. At first, when I heard the report, I thought that a mere single pilot plane hit one of the towers, but before long, I realized that it was an extreme attack upon our freedom as a nation. In order to remember this day and honor all the people who lost their lives in this tragedy, I would like to ask a few questions and then try my best to answer them.
Who did this to us? Some people said that God did this to us. Those people blame it on the moral and spiritual decline of America. They say that God is judging the evil in this land. But we should state that there is a lot of good in America also. For example, who is usually the first one on the scene to help when disaster strikes somewhere in the world? Overall, America is really a great place to live. I can’t think of another nation that I would like to call my home. I am grateful beyond measure that God has allowed me to be born and to live in America. America has it problems, but we sometimes forget all the great things about America and all the great people America has in it.
Other people blame it on our security letdown. We have foolishly thought that oceans and wealth and military muscle create an impeccable shield. Among our proudest possessions were the targets of the attack—the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—and the instruments of the attack—our sleek transcontinental airliners.
But we cannot and should not make the conclusion that God did this to us. God did not do this. Not for a second. Some angry, hate-filled men energized by Satan did this. Then, why did God allow this to happen if He is a God of love?
Humans have freedom to do what they want. God could have stopped it, but if we want to live in a world in which God stops us from hurting one another, then we have to live in a world where there is not true choice. We live in a world full of evil. Evil was around us on 9-11 whether we are speaking of the explosive reality of commercial airliners slicing into gigantic buildings and snuffing out the lives of several thousand people, or the silent reality of tens of thousands of the world’s children dying of hunger-related causes on the same day.
We try to explain it away by stating that the evil doer had bad genes or abusive parents or that it was just extreme, fanatical thinking. And while there is a point for the causes of evil, we must insist that evil happens because people choose to do evil. This was the terrorists’ fault. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were trying to hijack Islam for their evil purposes in much the same way that Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich sought to hijack Christianity for their evil purposes. The purposes of both were evil, genuinely evil.
How could God bring good out of this tragedy? There are at least four different “good things” that have come from 9-11. First, God got our attention, at least for a little while. In the first year after the attacks on 911, tens of thousands of people went back to church. But researchers say that after that first year, almost all of those people had dropped out of church. What does this tell us? It could mean that the church didn’t answer the people’s most heart wrenching questions. But it could also be telling us something about the human race; that we only want God to be around us when we need His help. In a time of trouble, we call out for God, but after that, it is as if we tell Him that we don’t need Him anymore.
Second, this tragedy reminded us that we need God. God promises to protect us when we ask Him to dwell with us. God promises that if you are walking with Him, it doesn’t matter who comes against you, you will always win. But if you are not walking with Him, it doesn’t matter how small the enemy is, you will always be defeated.
If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:9-11).
On June 25, 1962, it became illegal to pray in school. This is one of the reasons I love that our church hosts a Christian school here. Every day our teachers can openly pray with their children in the classroom. They are all taught the Bible every day. What public school would allow a teacher teach the Bible to their students? But when we have asked God to exit our lives, how can we expect Him to be there to protect us when we really need Him?
Third, this tragedy showed us who the real heroes are. They are not sports figures. They are not Hollywood celebrities or people who control wealth. The real hero is the police officer and the firefighter who risk their lives saving others. Every day, our firefighters, policemen, teachers, and other public servants make a difference in this world. They should be shown honor and respect.
Fourth, God has shown us what (and who) really matters. Who did the people in the last seconds of their lives—in a building, on a plane—call? Not their stockbrokers, not their financial advisors. They were calling the people they loved.
Was God at work during this tragedy? Absolutely. God protected many people that day. Pastors in Manhattan and the surrounding areas of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and across the river in New Jersey talked together after the event and found a common denominator: an enormous number of people were late to work that day. In our daily hurry, it’s important for us to stay in touch with the Lord.
God had some Christians on assignment that day. He knew that they would die, but they would be sharing their faith to nonbelievers in the last few moments of their life and those nonbelievers would call out to God for salvation. Just think of how a “fired up” believer could lead others to saving faith in Jesus Christ if they all knew they only had a few minutes left on earth.
It is a miracle that so few people died in the attacks. Just read these facts:
- Over 18,000 people were evacuated from the two 110 story buildings in under two hours. That was 90% of those who were in the buildings when the two planes hit. In 1993, when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists setting off a bomb in an underground garage, it took 6 hours to evacuate. What if it would have taken 6 hours to evacuate?
- If the two planes would have crashed just before lunchtime, 50,000 people would have been at their desks and workstations.
- At the Pentagon, where as many as 30,000 people work, only 125 people died. When American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, it struck at the only place in the huge complex that had recently been rebuilt—an area in which the walls were reinforced with bulletproof material inside the masonry. A veteran pilot could not have picked out that exact spot even if he had been trained to do it. Many of the offices in that area were vacant.
- United Flight 93 heading for San Francisco was almost an hour late and crashed into Pennsylvania because the passengers got word from cell phones that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit. Two of the last words recorded from that flight were those of a Christian stockbroker Todd Beamer, who was overheard urging fellow passengers, “Let’s roll.”
- American Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, was really heading for the Whitehouse. The reflection of the sun made it difficult for the terrorists to see. Therefore, the terrorists circled the capital and headed for the Pentagon.
These facts teach us that God showed us mercy. The total number of people who could have been inside the twin towers and the Pentagon is 80,000. The total number who died was approximately 3,000. Even though that number is about one thousand people more than died at Pearl Harbor in 1941, it still represents only 4% of the total who could have lost their lives.
It is possible that you have heard about Genelle Guzman-McMillan. She was the last survivor of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Allow me to tell her miraculous story. She arrived a little after 8:00 a.m. on that infamous day and rode the elevator to her job on the 64th floor of the north tower. Thinking it was safe to stay, she didn’t attempt to leave the building until after the second plane hit. But after the second plane hit, she started racing down 51 flights of stairs in high heels. She stopped for a moment on the 13th floor and as she bent down to remove her shoes, the north tower collapsed on top of her. Let Genelle tell you what happened next.
“One hundred and ten floors were coming down around us. I knew I was being buried alive. The noise was deafening…When I woke again I told myself I had to do something. But what could I do? ‘God, you’ve got to help me!’ I prayed. ‘You’ve got to show me a sign, show me a miracle, give me a second chance. Please save my life!’ My eyes were so caked with grime that the tears couldn’t come, but I felt it in my heart. I was talking to God as though He were right there. I told Him I was ready to live my life the right way. ‘Lord, just give me a second chance, and I promise I will do your will.’ Then the next day I heard a beep-beep sound like a truck backing up. I called for help, but there was no response…Finally someone hollered back: ‘Hello, is somebody there?’ ‘Yes, help me! My name is Genelle, and I’m on the 13th floor,’ I cried, not realizing how ludicrous the information about my location must have sounded, coming from a pile of rubble…I could see a bit of daylight coming through a crack, so I stuck my hand through it…I stretched my hand out as far as I could, and this time someone grabbed it. ‘Genelle, I’ve got you! You’re going to be all right. My name is Paul. I won’t let go of your hand until they get you out.’”
Genelle prayed to the God she had ignored for most of her life. After twenty-seven hours she was pulled out of the rubble and then spent five weeks in the hospital recovering. Afterward, she tried locating Paul, the man who had held onto her hand until she was rescued. Later, when she asked about him, her rescuers assured her: “There’s no one named Paul on our team…nobody was holding your hand when we were removing the rubble.” Despite the fact that her story has been told on Oprah, CNN, in Guideposts and Time, no one named Paul has ever stepped forward to take credit for rescuing her. Was Paul an angel of God’s presence, assuring her that all would be well? Did God send a ministering angel to her? I believe He did.
What is our responsibility twelve years later? There are two main things that we can do. First, we should pray. “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray” (1 Peter 4:7). For the people who died on September 11, 2001, the end of all things was near for them. Their end was that day and then they started eternity either in heaven or in hell. But don’t wait for the final moment of your life to pray. Begin praying to God today. Prayer is a real conversation with a real person. I challenge you to pray throughout your day. Prayer is what keeps us sharp spiritually and helps us stay alert to our surroundings. Just as many people on that day where listening to God and avoided the tragedy, is there a tragedy you can avoid by listening to God? Or, you can listen to God while you are in the midst of a tragedy to help people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Second, be the light to a dark world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Two thousand years ago, God let angry, hate-filled men, energized by the devil, kill His only Son. He knows our heartaches and outrage. He turned His Son’s death into the redemption of the world. Worse times are possibly ahead of us. But it is not a time to be afraid. It is a time to shine your light in a dark world. This world can be a dark and evil place to live. That is why God wants us to be a light wherever we go. In our workplace, we must be a light. In our schools, we must be a light. In our communities, we must be a light. Will you commit to being a light for this dark world?