A full decade has passed since America suffered the tragedy of 9/11. Ten years ago, I repeatedly heard the question raised: “Where was God in all of this? Where was God on 9/11 when the planes crashed into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania?” My answer then was the same as it is now: God was in the precise place on 9/11 that He was on the day before and the day after. He was on His throne then and continues to be on His throne now because He is the Lord God omnipotent who reigns. He reigns day in and day out in consistent manifestation of His immutable sovereignty. God is immutable, unchanging, even though people and cultures continually change.
When we look at the casualties on 9/11, we see that they were light compared with the casualties suffered in bloody battles during previous times of war. They were light compared to the casualties of Antietam and Gettysburg. They were light compared to the casualties of Hiroshima and the Battle of the Bulge. The victims were few compared to those who were slaughtered in the Holocaust and in the purges under Joseph Stalin in Russia.
But the emotional scars have been enormous in our culture. The most vivid symbol of the changes caused by that cultural crisis may be the lines at airports as people undergo security scanning, an intrusion into their privacy and schedules, before they can board planes for travel. We also see it in the security that surrounds other modes of transportation and public events.
In the days, weeks, and months immediately following 9/11, appealing to God to intervene for the welfare of our country became very common. Suddenly, calls for the separation of church and state, particularly the separation of the state from God, were set aside as we looked to the Creator to help bail us out from the consequences of the terrorist attack on our homeland. Bumper stickers with the request “God bless America” seemed to be ubiquitous.
When two evangelical leaders, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, suggested that 9/11 may have been a divine judgment upon our sinful culture, they were hissed, booed, and shouted down to the point that they issued public recantations. The American psyche has no place for a God who judges people or nations. God can bless us, but God forbid He ever judges us.
We are like Habakkuk, who, in his consternation over the fact that God used a foreign power to chasten His own people, stationed himself in a watchtower, demanding an answer from God as to how He could allow such wickedness to prevail. Unlike Habakkuk’s reaction when God answered that question in His Holy Word, our lips do not quiver, our legs do not shake, our bellies do not tremble, nor does rottenness enter our bones (Hab. 3:16). Rather than repent in dust and ashes before a holy God, we continue to shake our fists in His face, demanding a more benevolent providence from His hand.
But God does not say to us as Americans: “My country right or wrong.” God requires nations as well as individuals to repent of their attempts to be autonomous, sovereign rulers, trying to displace Him. Any nation that seeks to supplant God’s sovereignty with its own is doomed. It is doomed to failure, it is doomed to destruction, and it is doomed to insignificance.
Many things have changed in the last ten years, but some have not. Saddam Hussein is gone, but terrorism is still here. Osama bin Laden is dead, but there still is no peace in the Middle East. Islam has grown exponentially in the West, but it has demonstrated again and again that it is, in fact, not a religion of peace. Its symbol today is the symbol it has had from its beginning — the scimitar or sword. This symbol stands in vivid contrast to the cross, the symbol of the Christian faith. Islam has a theology that glorifies conquest; Christianity has a theology of the cross. In Islam, it is still a virtue to slay an infidel, and this virtue is sought by suicide bombers around the world. But in God’s sight, it is still a virtue to love our enemies and to pray for those who deceitfully use us.
My fear is that we haven’t learned very much from 9/11. On 9/11, ten years ago, more babies were destroyed in the wombs of their mothers than people were killed in the terrorist attack in New York. That destruction continues to this day. The greatest attacks on the sanctity of life come not from al-Qaeda but from those who destroy their young. God will not continue to tolerate any nation that practices that culture of death and barbarism.
What is most tragic is that when we were given a wake-up call ten years ago on 9/11, we pushed the snooze button and went back to sleep.