Over the course of more than two hundred years of United States history, there are moments that are indelibly etched in the collective memory of our nation. September 11, 2001 marks one of those moments that is vividly and painfully seared in the consciousness of not just Americans but people around the world as well.
High school and college students, stay-at-home moms, working men and women, seniors and retirees-everyone has a story to tell about when they heard, or worse, saw the news reports of the first 767 jet crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, followed seventeen minutes by a second jet crashing into the South Tower. By mid-morning all America was reeling from the reports of additional plane crashes at the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
On the morning of September 11, I was preparing to go to work when I heard about the first plane crash. I assumed that this was a horrific accident similar to the tragedy in 1945 when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. Pulling into the parking lot at work, I heard about the second crash and realized it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that two planes would strike the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center within minutes of one another. As the memory of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing came to mind, I realize that these incidents were targeted, terrorist attacks.
In those mind-numbing moments, life in America turned upside down. United States airspace was shut down: no civilian planes, private or commercial, were allowed to take off; all planes in flight were ordered to land as soon as possible; and all international flights bound for the U.S. were diverted to Canada and Mexico. Government buildings, airports, national landmarks, and shopping malls were either evacuated or voluntarily closed. Radio and television stations quickly moved to a continuous news format, and the public tuned in and stayed tuned in.
As the day wore on, an eerie quiet descended as many people opted to stay home with family, glued to their televisions. Police departments reported a decrease in crime in the aftermath of 9/11-even criminals were staying home, listening to the reports from Ground Zero and watching the endless replay of the jets crashing into the Twin Towers. As one policeman told me, “even the bad guys were scared by the terrorist attacks.”
Yet many others sought the fellowship of believers as churches opened their doors for corporate and individual prayer. Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol in the evening of 9/11, vowing unity and spontaneously singing “God Bless America.” President Bush officially proclaimed Friday, September 14, as “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11.” All across the country pastors led their people in prayer. Even people who weren’t regular church attendees were drawn to church and were comforted by the Word of God:
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.
On September 11, 2001, we watched as two man-made mountains of steel and concrete crashed down along the banks of the Hudson River. Smoke and ash billowed from the wreckage, filling the streets of Lower Manhattan and defiling the brilliant blue of that cloudless September sky. Fear and confusion were on the faces of people as they fled the devastation. The scene in New York City was like the terror and destruction described in Psalm 46. Yet just as the psalmist knew that God was his refuge and strength, his help whenever he needed Him, we know that we can claim those truths for ourselves as well-not just on September 11, 2001, but today and every day.
The U.S. government has implemented many procedures, policies, and programs in the wake of 9/11 to ensure the safety of its citizens. We now have no-fly lists, enhanced (and often intrusive) screening at airport security checkpoints, numerous limitations on items that can be packed in carry-on bags, and other restrictions that aim to guarantee that there will never be a repeat of 9/11. Osama bin Laden has been killed and many other high-level al-Qaeda members are either dead or have been captured.
Ten years after the tragedy of 9/11 we might believe we have every reason to feel secure in the government’s ability to keep us from harm, but if we put our trust in the power and abilities of man, our faith is surely misplaced. The psalmist writes that: “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” It is because of who God is and what He is able to do that we are able to face the worst without fear.
Across the state and nation this weekend, in church services and in local memorial services, we will once again lift up prayers for our nation, leaders, first responders, and for our soldiers as we collectively and appropriately remember 9/11. These prayers need not — must not — be relegated to moments of crisis or solemn observations of tragedies. Christians across the state should pray daily for our nation and our leaders. We should pray for direction, wisdom, understanding, protection, and God’s hand of conviction.
The events of 9/11 and all that we have endured as a nation since to remind us that ultimately our only safety, our eternal security, rests solely with God. If faced with the choice between reliance on the limited and flawed power of man or the limitless and perfect sovereignty of our omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, how could one not choose God? Praise God that we can rest secure in the closing words of Psalm 46:
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.