What Does September 11 Mean?

What Does September 11 Mean?

Pull Quotes:

“No nation has ever been so blessed for so long”

“If suffering does come, we must meet it in God’s way.”

I have been grieving for our country since that day. But I was grieving before that. Any serious Christian has known that America could not continue as we have and still expect the blessing and protection of God. I have often wondered how long God would allow us to fornicate for the entertainment of TV audiences, laugh at sin on our late shows, call evil good and good evil, flood the Internet with pornography and sacrifice the unborn for our convenience.

We are more threatened by our internal decay than we are by outside enemies.

Dr. James Dobson describes the American family as being in free fall. Massive family breakup, fueled by our materialism and wrong priorities, is creating a growing number of lost, antisocial, angry, conscienceless Timothy McVeighs, school shooters, drug abusers and violent criminals. If that were not enough, a generation is growing up on the moral standards of MTV.

Freedom means we can choose how we live. But we cannot escape the consequences to ourselves and our society. Freedom can only survive when people are controlled by their own consciences. And conscience depends on knowing and fearing God.

God has loved America greatly. In spite of our blemishes, no nation has ever been so blessed for so long. Most of our founders recognized and honored God. For a long time the general body of our population recognized Biblical moral principles and felt accountable, even if we did not always obey them. But now more and more people are abandoning the standards we have traditionally believed in. I believe God loves us too much to do nothing.

I believe tragedy is from Satan and from human sin, not from God. But I believe it is graphically clear that God has partially removed his hand of protection. Heretofore the FBI and CIA have been able to head off an astonishing number of terrorist plots including some this summer. Even with the first bombing of the Trade Center, the terrorists largely failed in their plan. Our country pretty much ignored that and other moral wake-up calls. This time the attackers were allowed to succeed. Yet one of the planes failed to reach its target. It is as if God said, “This far and no farther.”

Suddenly prayer in public is back in style. Peter Jennings of ABC, who not long ago hosted a special on the liberal, doubt-inspiring Jesus Seminar, now comments that “prayer is becoming the fabric of life in America.” Steve Case, Chairman of AOL and Time-Warner, is quoted as saying that “Our founding fathers put their trust in God and perhaps we should as well.”

When God announced to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, “In 40 days you will be destroyed,” national repentance with prayer and fasting averted the disaster. It remains to be seen how much of our prayer is broken-hearted penitence leading to real change, and how much is “Lord, get us out of this so we can go back to business as usual.” If it is the latter, why should God save us?
There is a flurry of discussion about the meaning of the tragedy. Some point out things in America today which are abominable to God. Others point out how unusual America has been in its defense of the oppressed, its help of the needy and its beneficent treatment of its defeated enemies. There is truth on both sides. Doubtless God has been patient with us because so many people in American still love him and live like it, and because Christian principles have sometimes guided our national policies. If this tragedy turns us back to God and future blessing, it will have been the most loving thing God could do for us. The victims will not have died in vain.

When Judah slid into corruption and ignored God’s warnings and wake-up calls, God announced that he was about to hand Judah over to invasion by the Babylonians, who would destroy Jerusalem and the temple, kill many Jews and take the rest as slaves to Babylon. The Jewish prophet Habakkuk was disturbed, not understanding how God could allow a nation more wicked than Judah to hurt Judah. God answered Habakkuk that God knew what he was doing and that the righteous would live by faith, by trusting God.

What can we expect after September 11, and how should we respond? Our institutions are strong and our people are united. Many people are calling on God. It may be that we will be spared at least for a while from further attack. It may be that our prosperity and safety are not completely at an end. I am certain that God still loves us. But it is likely that suffering lies ahead. The infection of sin is deep. Our open society is extremely vulnerable to many different kinds of terrorist attack. Those behind the terror hate us passionately and believe they are serving God. Our effort to retaliate could easily spiral into world war. Our economy has been shaken. War will require sacrifice.

If suffering must come, we Christians need to meet it in God’s way. It is vitally important to see current reality through the eyes of scripture, to “understand the times.” There are clear scriptural truths to guide us through the smoke and confusion and fear:

1. God has often allowed the acts of evil powers to discipline, purify and draw people back to him – 2 Chronicles 36:15-21. But God also judges those evil powers for their actions – Isaiah 47:5-11 – because they choose to do what they do.

2. God’s discipline comes from his love – Hebrews 12:5-12. He “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” – Ezekiel 18:20 NIV. He does not want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance – 2 Peter 3:9.

3. We survivors are not more righteous than those who died in the attacks. Some who died were God’s people. Jesus spoke about a current tragedy in his day: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them??do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” – Luke 13:4.5 NIV.

4. God has always used trials to improve us and bring out the best – James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3,4. ( We see that in some of the responses during and after the tragedies.) When each trial comes, we choose whether it will tear us down or build us up. But God knows and loves his people. He counts the hairs on our heads. He will not allow us to be tested beyond our ability – 1 Corinthians 10:13.
5. When God brings corrective judgments, some humble themselves and return to God while others curse God and hate God’s people – Jonah 3:4-10; Revelation 16:7-11.

6. Don’t automatically equate America or the West with God’s side. Just before Israel began the military conquest of Canaan, Joshua met an angel warrior and asked him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” replied the angel – Joshua 5:13-15. Even though Israel was God’s chosen and the land had been promised to them, God would only fight for them if they walked with him. Ironically, one of the things our current enemies condemn us for is our public lewdness and promiscuity.

7. Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies and to leave personal vengeance to God – Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:17-21. I do not believe this rules out justice by the proper authorities or self-defense. Self-defense should not be done in hatred. The kind of love we learn from God is not a feeling; it’s a choice. Hatred drives our enemies. If they drive Christians to hate, it is a defeat for us. The heart of a Christian must be kept pure from hatred. On a worldly level the free nations have to protect themselves. But as children of God we should pray for the enemy to come to repentance and the love of God. They have souls and needs just as we do. And we should pray for the protection of innocent lives in every nation.

8. This world is not our home and this life is only the beginning. We have all thought of our children and grandchildren who may have to go to war, and of what might happen to us and those we love. But God has always taught his people to live like “strangers and travelers” in this world, knowing that our home and destination is heaven – Hebrews 11:8-16; 1 Peter 1:1,17; 2:11.

9. The fear of harm or death is greatly reduced by renouncing our life for Christ’s sake ahead of time. We Christians are supposed to have done that at conversion. Whether we live or die, we are to have denied self, shouldered a cross and followed Christ – Matthew 16:24,25. If we die, we step into the arms of God and things are better than ever – Matthew 10:28-31; Philippians 1:23,24.

Mahatma Gandhi led India’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule. He was Hindu and we would not agree with some of his theology, but he is a shining example of self-renunciation. At the beginning he mentally gave up his life for the cause. Because he had already dedicated his life as a sacrifice, he could lead his people into the muzzles of British rifles or move world opinion by fasting to death’s door. He could always act with peace and courage because the decision about his life had already been made. We also must leave ourselves and our loved ones in God’s hands and concentrate on representing Christ to a desperate world.

10. “Judgment begins at the house and family of God” – I Peter 4:17; Ezekiel 9:5,6. We have had the most light and are the most accountable. Yet amazingly the moral statistics are no different for the church than for the world. Too often our religion has been for self and not for God. We want to feel good, not to be transformed. Many pulpits have done well in preaching grace but have forgotten that grace calls us to renounce ungodliness – Titus 2:11-13.
We haven’t a hope of evangelizing the world unless we are different – Matthew 5:13-16. Will we begin to take holiness seriously and confront sin? Will we take inventory in our own lives? Will we help our children recognize what is seductive but destructive? Will we quit inviting sin electronically into our living rooms and our hearts? Or have we gradually become so desensitized that we are no longer alarmed by sin? Will parents pray, apologize, and tell their families it’s going to be different? Will the current discipline awaken revival in the church? Will we stop devastating the gospel with our unbiblical divisions? Or will God remove our lampstand? – Revelation 2:5.

11. Times of upheaval are the times of greatest openness to the gospel. Many are sobered and know they need God. It is vital that Christians not only model real Christlikeness but also that we adopt the right spirit when speaking to unbelievers – 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:5,6; Ephesians 5:15,16. (I am ashamed of the un-American, un-Christian way some have treated Muslims in our country since the attack.) 1 Peter ought to be priority reading for us right now.

12. The gospel and the church can still survive and prosper during evil times. I pray earnestly that God will not take away the peace and well-being we have enjoyed. I pray for our leaders and those who defend us. But God’s church has lived and grown under many different political and economic conditions. Suffering even refines and strengthens the church. Conversion rates under Chinese communist oppression are unprecedented. Some of the finest hours of Christians came during the horrors of Nazi occupation and Soviet oppression.

Neither does our happiness depend on our economy or security. The blessings our country has enjoyed are abnormal for the majority of the world and the majority of history. I praise God for his goodness to us and for what he has allowed us to accomplish. Yet my family and I lived as missionaries in one of the world’s poorest nations and they were happier as a people than Americans have been. Most Christian families had buried at least one young child. When serious illness strikes, they may be many miles from medical help. If they manage to walk or bicycle there, there may not be more than an aspirin available. Many houses have only holes for windows and doors and thatch for a roof. Belongings are never secure. But their treasure is in God and in the people God has given them to relate to, and in the simple blessings that cannot be bought with money.

May God be merciful to us and spare us. But may we be able in him to live and serve and sacrifice as he may call us to do. May we and our nation take him seriously as we never have before. May our leaders look to him. May we learn that God himself is our future. May we trustfully say with Habakkuk,

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength… (Habakkuk 3:17-19a NIV)

—B. Shelburne