Where were you when the world stopped turning? This is the question that Trevin Wax asked his readers on his blog. Trevin also asked some of the leading pastors about their thoughts on ministry in a Post-9/11 World. Tim Keller did an excellent job addressing the issues of suffering, hope, and God’s sovereignty over 9/11 for The Gospel Coalition. Crossway had a series of posts based on R.C. Sproul’s book When Worlds Collide: Where is God?, asking Was 9/11 A Senseless Tragedy?, discussing this tragic event’s effect on Moral Relativism, and how 9/11 Shows the Value of Human Life. And Russell Moore does an absolutely outstanding job discussing The Gospel at Ground Zero for Christianity Today.
I don’t think it’s hard for any of us to remember exactly where we were on September 11, 2001. That moment will probably burned into our minds for the rest of our lives. We probably remember exactly how we felt when we heard the news. “Terrorists just flew planes into the Twin Towers!” Disbelief. “Haha, yeah right, there’s no way that could happen.” Anger. “How dare they attack us! How dare they kill so many innocent people!!” Vulnerability. “If they can do this, what else can they do?” Fear. “When will the next attack happen?”
I was 18, fresh out of high school, and had just spent 15 weeks at Marine Corps Recruit Depot for a 13 week boot camp, and still wasn’t graduating. I failed in the one thing that I had planned to do in life. Granted, it was because my feet have high arches. They hurt like hell, and it showed. So, the corpsman sent me home. Even though it was a physical issue, I felt that it somehow revealed an internal weakness: lack of heart. I was in the barracks with the other recruits who were being sent home, just waiting to get on a plane and go back to the real world, where we all knew we’d face what we thought would be the hardest challenge of boot camp: adjusting to being a “civilian”. The very word left a bad taste in our mouths. I was due to leave MCRD the next day, on September 12th.
Then it happened. One of the recruits came and yelled to the rest of us “Terrorists just flew planes into the Twin Towers!” Our reactions were, well, much like I listed above. Once I’d come to grips with the reality of what just happened, I had one response, just one: KILL THEM ALL!
I didn’t mean just the terrorists. They were already dead. Apparently they had the ability to plan a covert attack for years without having the foresight to pack parachutes. I meant all of them. In my angry, vulnerable, terrified, idolatrous heart, I wanted them all dead. Every last man, woman, and child even remotely close to looking like the terrorists. I wanted the U.S. to just fire off nukes and make an uninhabitable crater of the middle east. I remember being frustrated at the slow pace with which our government dealt with this. When President Bush announced the “War on Terror” my exact words were “Thank God, it’s about time we wiped them out.”
I know, that’s terrible. But that’s real.
Fortunately, God’s grace intervened. First, He prevented me from being part of the military. He stopped me from doing the one thing that my blood-boiling anger drove me to desire, seeking revenge at the cost of another man’s life. Second, He gave wisdom to our President, congress, and military leaders as they discussed how to best deal with this assault. I’m not saying I agree with everything that happened, but they were right to take their time and not rush into battle. Third, he used that vulnerability and fear that I felt to finally reach my heart in a way He hadn’t previously reached me. Over the years, He has slowly but surely transformed my heart and my mind away from the angry, selfish, idolatrous state I was stuck in ten years ago.
He has moved me from wanting them all dead, to almost crying when Bin Laden died. Not because he didn’t deserve to die for his crimes, but because he died without ever confessing Christ as Lord. That’s one less person worshiping Jesus. To be sure, after his death, he confessed Christ as Lord, but it was too late. One less person praising Christ for all eternity. One more person condemned to Hell. Yes, I believe that God is sovereign over this, and that God chose to work this way from before creation, and he did so for His glory and our good. But it still presses me that I heard so much talk about people trying to find him to kill him, and virtually none about people trying to find him to preach the gospel to him. It presses me that I was part of the problem.
I also realized that just as I felt that my giving in to the pain my body caused me during boot camp was a reflection of an internal weakness, the terrorist who attacked us did so from a heart that was dead in sin. True, there are many non-Christians who are dead in sin and don’t kill anyone, much less hundreds to thousands of people. But there is still the truth that they acted out of a wicked heart, which we are all plagued with. Just compare the scenarios: The terrorists kill a bunch of people, and many Christians that I know wanted to kill them right back. Is this really what the gospel teaches us? No, it’s not.
God used 9/11 in my life to teach me much about His grace, and to provide a permanent point to which I can look back and see how much He has worked in my life. Yes, this event is MUCH bigger than me. Its effects are much broader than any one individual, and the blogs and articles I posted above attest to that fact. But 9/11 affects each of us individually as well as corporately.
What has God done in your life as a result of this tragedy?