9/11 and the Kingdom of God

Ten years ago . . .

Firefighter climbing up WTC stairs while others go down, 9/11/2001.

I had to be at work by 6AM PST. I worked in tech support for a large software company on the west coast and many of my clients were on the east coast. As I entered the building the security guard asked me if I had heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I had not. When I got to my desk I logged on to my computer and then I thought I would check an online news source to see something about that plane. In my mind I imagined a small private plane. As I tried to access various news related web sites none of them would load. It was like the Internet suddenly ground to a crawl. I knew something must be up, meaning a lot of people were trying to access the same sites as me and the traffic was overwhelming their servers. So I stood up and noticed no one was at their desks around me, but that a crowd had formed at another cubicle across the room. I walked over. Someone had attached a television receiver to their computer and everyone was watching the live newscast. As I approached the first thing I saw was the image of the two towers, one of which had smoke pouring from it. I stood there thinking, “Boy is this ever a major mistake.” I assumed the pilot of a large plane had miscalculated terribly. Then, a couple of minutes later I saw the second plane hit the second tower. Immediately a shiver went up my spine and I knew this was no accident. We all stood there in silence, stunned. Then a number of us ran to our phones. A lot of the agents had clients in those towers. Though they may have never met them, they knew them, they had worked with them, talked with them about their families, and some had become friends of the agents. The phone lines were overloaded; they couldn’t get through. We could tell people were trapped in those buildings. Then I remembered my sister. She was on a business trip and was supposed to fly into New York City that morning. I called her but couldn’t get through. I called my parents. My sister had missed her flight and was fortunately stuck at the hotel. Her husband, a pilot for Continental, was at the controls of his plane returning from Mexico when he was forced to land in Florida. I called my wife and told her to turn on the television. All in all it was a strange and disturbing day: Lots of worries, lots of heartache, lots of speculation. That day also began a two week period for me of many tears as I watched over and over the footage, heard many of the stories of tragedy and heroism, and listened to recordings of last voicemails to loved ones.

I am getting teary just writing this, and yet “my” 9/11 was tame in comparison to many others’. Fortunately, no one I knew died or directly suffered anything serious that day, but I will never be the same nonetheless. That day left its imprint on all of us who, each with our own stories, were witnesses.

Tragedies like 9/11 are defining moments. Recently I have been viewing once again Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War. That war was probably the most defining “moment” in the history of our nation, and it was an indescribable tragedy. It was, in effect, the “crossroads of our being” as Shelby Foote said. I wonder what we will say about 9/11 in a hundred years. Was it also a crossroads? Maybe so. I hope that in the long run it was a crossroads for good; I hope the direction we go as a nation redeems, in some way, that horrible day.

As a parent I am deeply concerned about this world and the future. And as a Christian facing into tragedies I have to ask if I truly believe that God is sovereign. What I have learned the hard way is that God is good and trustworthy regardless of the tragedies in our lives. I am not to live in fear but to trust God. That is sometimes hard to do. It is in our nature to live in either fear or denial. As I look at this country since that fateful day I do not think we have done a great job as a nation in dealing with 9/11. Even though many people died that day, I believe the real motive behind the attacks was to create a climate of fear. From what I can tell the terrorists succeeded. But it does not have to be that way. Christians are to be salt and light. The early church could have lived in fear. They were a persecuted church and many Christians came to tragic and terrible deaths. But they did not live in fear. Instead they proclaimed the good news. They knew that God was in control, that He is trustworthy, and that true life is much grander than the few years we experience in this age. We should have the same attitude today as those early Christians. We should not fear terrorists or other enemies; we should not fear other 9/11’s, we should not fear death.

I know it is easy to say this from the comfort of my office, but the older I get the more I am convinced that events like 9/11 are touchstones that bring out who we truly are. We can be the kind of people who cling ever more tightly to this world, who fear tragedy might strike us too, and that are loath to give up what little we have. Or we can be people who are reminded by 9/11 that this life is fleeting, that our lives are utterly contingent upon God, and that our lives are not only about the here and now, but even more so about the kingdom of God where no tear shall be shed. To live in fear is to remain only in the kingdom of this world. The tragedy of 9/11 was born from the kingdom of this world and inflicted by its servants. Christians, however, belong to a different kingdom, a kingdom that this world desperately needs to embrace and to love. Christians of all people should not be cowed into a fearful submission by the popular rhetoricians of the day, rather we should confidently turn to God and proclaim that He is the source of all life, and then turn to the world and continue to proclaim.

Remember what Christ said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (St. Matthew 6:25-33, ESV)

Let us then, as we remember 9/11, and as we rightly mourn the day, continue to seek first the kingdom of God. And let us teach our children to do the same.

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