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On the 11th September 2001 what might have been a Hollywood horror movie became reality. A commander at the Pentagon made the connection when he said: "It was like being in a movie." The magnitude of what took place was beyond our ability to absorb. Within 24 hours the death toll was expected to be over 10,000 souls. We have difficulty sympathising with so many bereaved families and injured victims although we want to.
The terrorist attack was a defining moment in world history. We wonder whether any good can come out of such terrible events. We think of a moment as a very short space of time. Such was the case. In less than two hours disaster upon disaster struck in the USA. We use the word momentous when we are speaking of world changing events that cannot leave things exactly the same as they were and that must be true too. We use the word momentum when we refer to the impetus for change that takes place as a result of some happening and this must surely be the case.
Some might say that the ox will still eat grass and there will still be beer at the pub but world leaders, whether presidents or prime ministers cannot take such a cynical view. They know that this one event signals a daily threat to the civilised world as long as there are those prepared to perpetrate such actions. All flights were stopped over the USA and London too. The stock exchanges of the world shuddered. An instant review of security systems began. The area where the first attacks took place is known locally as 'the crossroads of the world.' The attack was directed at the World Trade Centre and there is no doubt that these events have significance for the whole world. One woman referring to the symbolism of the Centre's towers said: "When the tower collapsed it changed everything."
The World Trade Centre symbolised different things to different people. For some it symbolised peaceful coexistence in a non-violent competition based upon the merchant not the soldier. It represented peaceful exchanges not military conquest. For others it symbolised all that is wrong with contemporary commercialism with its greed, materialism, indifference to human suffering and economic oppression. The second location of attack was the Pentagon, the symbol of American military might and competence in the protection of USA interests at home and abroad. The symbolism is very striking. Not only did airport security fail to detect the terrorists but military surveillance failed to identify and intercept the enemy before he struck at the very heart of the protection of the realm.
What lessons can be learnt from these catastrophic events?
They certainly bring home to us the uncertainty of this life. In Manhattan everyone went out to work as usual. Everything started as a normal day. Then disaster struck. James 4.13 reminds us all not to take anything for granted in an irreligious way. "Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." (James 4:13-15)
These events also focus our attention upon the depravity of man. The British Prime Minister spoke of "a wickedness beyond our normal contemplation." But is it not just this wickedness that we have to face up to as sinners? Jeremiah raises the question concerning the condition of fallen man without Divine grace: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
We must also consider the inadequacy of human endeavour. In these terrible circumstances we are presented with the limitations of human intelligence, wealth and military prowess on their own. Commenting on what he saw after his own escape one financier commented: "It was like the end of the world." The end of the world will be the ultimate demonstration of human inadequacy in the face of Divine absolutes. The Apostle John describes the second coming of Christ to judgement in the following way: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation 1:7)
We are thus presented with the need for change. There will be discussion about the wisdom of constructing 110 floor buildings 1368 feet high. There will be reconsideration of tens of thousands of trade specialists all being concentrated in one place. There will be changes in travel security. Most of all there will be an urgent review of military intelligence and the security of military establishments and the wisdom of concentrating military specialists in one location. However, these changes will not address the spiritual changes necessary, to move from no ultimate answers to total ultimate answers. The Daily Telegraph editor stated that the USA needs to be smarter. This is no doubt correct but cannot be a total solution. These horrific events of such magnitude can be repeated in the same or different ways every time one or two terrorists slip through the net. The arch enemy of mankind has many accomplices awaiting their opportunity. Only the Lord Jesus Christ as the King of kings has the resources to defeat him. It is time for Western Societies to face up to our need for the God that has been forgotten.
The event prompts us to consideration of the judgement of God. Some have been celebrating this event as a Divine judgement. Perhaps they think that these people in the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon deserved this, being greater sinners than the rest of us for working in such places. However, Jesus cautioned against such simplistic views and urges us make a personal application of these things. "There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5) Whereas some will view the suicide terrorists as martyrs, right-minded people would no doubt expect that they and their sponsors will face a terrible judgement of God. How could it be otherwise if God is just? And if God is just how can any of us escape, for all have sinned?
These terrible events impress on us the importance of seeking and finding true comfort and strength in the grace of God. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life and he can save from the grave and he alone. The psalmist calls to us to consider our helplessness without God's grace: "Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: Both low and high, rich and poor, together. My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)" (Psalms 49:1-8)
What must be done now? Others have the responsibility of advising concerning the details of security and military responses but there is a spiritual dimension too and spiritual responses to this catastrophe that are necessary.
We must have humility before God in consideration of the awesome magnitude of this display of our need for the Almighty.
We must repent of any personal involvement in the lapse into indifference concerning extreme poverty and genuine need in the world and concerning the many precious lives lost through abortion.
We must have hope, not in responses arising from humanistic rationalizing of this terrible evil, but in the real refuge of sinners. The psalmist directs us: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof." (Psalms 46:1-3)
We must seek the Lord while he may be found as those who do not know what a day will bring, that we might be found in Christ who is the resurrection and the life.
We must work for change. A world with a future must be different. Our nations need to return to absolute standards to secure reliable pillars for peace, freedom, justice and prosperity.
We must uphold the use of the civil 'sword'. Many in Western nations have spoken about the barbarity of the capital sentence and denied to the civil authorities the ultimate sanction of the sword. But there is no other weapon against such naked brutality as witnessed on 9-11-01. One commented that we are faced with a real war between civilization and terrorism and that it is not a matter of retribution or revenge. It is just that if such terrorists are not stopped they will repeat what they have already done. There is, however, an issue of retribution, and retribution is not the same as revenge. There is an upholding of justice, which we are not to confuse with getting back at others. According to the Apostle Paul the "powers that be" have a responsibility to protect the people and to uphold righteousness. He says of the civil magistrate: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (Romans 13:4)
Above all we must trust the God of love believing that every believing sinner can enjoy that love. The message of the Gospel remains: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)