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Lessons From the Tragedy of September 11, 2001

  • I wrote this article just weeks after the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001. I have reprinted it here for our consideration on the tenth anniversary of this event.

As President Bush has said, none of us will ever forget where we were and what we were doing when we heard about the terrorist attacks on September 11th. I saw a little bit of footage on the morning news as we were getting ready for the day. I was too busy to stop and listen and left the house thinking that there was just a fire on one of the floors of the World Trade Center. After I dropped Paige off at school, I turned on the radio to find that all the programming had been preempted. It was then that I realized that something serious was taking place. After a few moments of reporting the radio went silent. Then I heard Peter Jennings say in disbelief, “The north tower has just collapsed.”

It wasn’t until I got home for lunch that I got to see the footage for myself. I went numb when I saw the airliner crash into the World Trade Center. All those passengers killed against their will and at that exact moment. What horrors they must have gone through! I was overcome with the thought of the towers crumbling to the ground, killing the thousands of innocent people who had not managed to get out of the building. That evening I sat in our basement listening to the radio with the lights off, feeling like the world as I knew it had just come to an end. Like the rest of the nation, I felt helpless and mortified. For the first time in my life I did not feel safe. 

Lives were changed by this tragic event. Only time will show the true significance that this event will have upon history, but the short-term changes are being felt and seen already. There are some lessons that need to be learned from this tragedy. Some are more obvious than others, but all of them are important.

1. Evil Exists in this World. Why do things like this happen? Why do innocent people have to die in such a tragic manner? The Bible indicates that there is no way to avoid this reality. We live in a fallen world that has been cursed by the presence of sin (Genesis 3:17-19). As long as we live in this world, we are subject to the effects of sin and evil. Since the nature and working of sin and evil are mysterious (2 Thessalonians 2:7), we are left to wonder “Why?”

God has not promised to take evil away, or to build a hedge around us to protect us from its effects, but God has made a promise to Christians that we will never undergo any burden that is greater than we can bear. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

2. The Terror of Helplessness. The Bible says that hope is an anchor. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Hebrews 6:19). An anchor is used to keep a ship steady and on course in the midst of a storm. Hope serves the same purpose. People can endure almost anything as long as they have hope, but once hope is gone, all is lost.

One can only wonder what the passengers on those four airliners felt once they realized that the plane they were on was not going to land. There was no way to escape. They could only sit and wait for their death. How about those in the World trade Center who were trapped on the floors above the impact of the airliners? Advancements in technology and architecture had raised those buildings so high that these people were out of the reach of any hope of rescue. No one was able to help them. How can we ever forget the scores of people who made their way to “ground zero” with pictures of their loved ones who were unaccounted for? They had spent days wandering through hospitals and armories in a desperate search. Many of them told reporters that they were still holding out hope, but their faces told a different story.

3. Judgment Will Be Sudden and Unexpected. No one had any way of knowing what was going to happen that day. The people on those planes and in those buildings were simply going about their normal business. No one was prepared for what was going to happen. There was no warning – just instant terror!

The Bible says that the Second Coming of Christ is going to take place in the same manner. “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). Jesus tells us to “watch” and “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42, 44).

The victims of this tragedy had no opportunity to escape. Time did not pause just for them. Judgment will be the same way. It will come suddenly and those who are not ready will be lost. Are you ready?

4. Some Things Really Are Not Important. Within hours of these events, the announcements of cancellations started to pour in. Our daughter’s Open House at school was scheduled for that evening. It was canceled. Major League Baseball games were called off for one day, then for two more days, then for the entire weekend. The entire Minor League Baseball season was canceled and champions were announced. The National Football League canceled their slate of games for that weekend, which led to the cancellation of all college games for that weekend.

What was the explanation for these cancellations? Over and over again we heard athletes, coaches, and team owners say, “There are some things that are more important than sports.” How right they are. It is sad that it takes a tragedy like this to get people to realize this fact. Don’t get me wrong. I am a sports fan, but the fact is that sports were not any less important the week after this tragedy than they were the week before.

People need to get their priorities straight. How many spouses and children are neglected in the name of sports and recreation? How many senior citizens are left alone while their children and grandchildren run here and there doing unimportant things? How many church buildings do these sports fans pass by on Sunday morning to get to the big game? How many people are going to face God in judgment unprepared because they have wasted their life away with unimportant things?

5. Good Will Triumph. Some ask why an all-powerful and benevolent God allows such tragedies to take place. God has His reasons. Times of suffering and pain are opportunities to test our resolve and prove what we are made of (James 1:2-4). America is passing this test with flying colors (the most prominent being red, white, and blue!!!). Our country has grown closer and stronger as a result of this tragedy. 

We have a long way to go. The families left behind will have to mourn and put the pieces back together. The Pentagon and World Trade Center will have to be rebuilt. The airline industry will suffer, which will most likely have a domino effect upon other parts of our economy, but in the end we will come out of this better than off than we were before September 11th.

On a much more important level, we hope this recent tragedy will awaken the hearts of men and women to see the need for God in their lives. Now more than ever Christians need to be letting their lights shine (Matthew 5:14-16). People who were once indifferent are now looking for answers and hope. May their find what they are looking for (Matthew 7:7-8), and may their hearts be good and honest when they find it (Luke 8:15), and may they serve God faithfully for the rest of their lives (Revelation 2:10).