Friday, September 12, 2014

9/11, Remembering and Wondering...

I'm writing this note on Thursday, September 11, 2014 (yesterday by the time you read this). It's Patriot Day officially, the day we recall attacks on airplanes that led to the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, much of the Pentagon, and a lone airliner crashing in Pennsylvania. 

There was a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit the first tower. Flags are at half mast. Remembrances have appeared all over Facebook, as well as pictures of the towers, before, during, and after the attack. Many talked about where they were at that time, and what they remember. One friend was on his way to mail a letter. He never did. He lost 9 acquaintances in the towers and Pentagon. Others talked about not leaving their TVs, and wondering what else was going on. For those of us in California, we woke up to the towers on fire, and I wasn't even dressed before the first one came down. Various people I knew, including missionaries, were in the midst of international travel and were basically locked in place for days. Meanwhile there were no planes overhead except fighter jets.Many stories began to emerge of people who were going to be in the towers or on those planes but were not. And then there were the stories of people who wound up there at the last minute, thinking they had gotten "lucky." One particular story belonged to one of my church members in Santa Clarita. George is a United Airlines pilot, and flew the Boston to LA route that month. As it turns out, the rotation was such that he was scheduled to fly on September 12. Had the attack been one day later, it would have been his plane.I still remember Todd Beamer's story, told by his wife, Lisa, and the phone call from his hijacked plane that gave us that memorable line, "Let's roll!"There were so many stories we heard in the aftermath of that day--stories of bravery, of self-sacrifice, of courage, and of faith. It was a horrible day that yielded so many individual evidences of extraordinary acts of heroism.It was a little more than a month later that I was catching a flight back to LA from Seattle when the news broke that we were attacking Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. All the passengers in the newly created extra security lines were more nervous as they heard the commentators talking about Osama bin Laden. The war that began then still drags on--even as we have sought to disengage from it. 

By the week after 9/11, we were already hearing some calling for all out war against every suspected enemy, and others saying that we must show mercy as a nation and turn the other cheek--war was not the answer. People were expressing confused ideas. So I preached on justice and mercy, what the Bible says to governments and individuals about both, and the difference between justice and vengeance. I called on us to think biblically even as we dealt with our own reactions. President Bush was "our president" no matter the party at first. His words at the national  memorial services and on the rubble at the World Trade Center made everyone proud. But politics revived, and national unity foundered as the Patriot Act was debated, and disappeared as the Iraq war went beyond the defeat of Saddam to "nation building." Politics seemed to trump any thought of national unity or resolve. Neither of those commodities seem to have been recovered since then. President Bush was not just wrong in the eyes of his detractors, he was evil. Now the same is true for President Obama. People who had been first in line to promote the war now were falling all over themselves to say they really hadn't favored it. Now we see a President elected on the promise to get us out of Iraq, who did so very quickly, but now is having to decide how to respond to what happened in the vacuum we left. I see people posting notes today saying that we were attacked but emerged stronger and more united. I wish that were the case, but I don't see a lot of national strength of will (we don't know what to do), or national character (we don't know right from wrong). We seem to have developed a patriotism that is more akin to wishful thinking.What has made America unique (and I would argue great) was that God, in his providence, allowed a nation to come into being that was powerfully shaped in its founding by principles and ideals largely derived from Scripture (even when those espousing them didn't see or acknowledge that). Believing that mankind generally and governments especially were prone to evil when empowered, they crafted a republic of laws, divided power (both nationally among branches of government and between the nation and states), individual liberties and rights, and made citizens sovereign. It was an incredibly novel experiment that worked. And while we have never been a "Christian nation," we have historically been a nation that acknowledged the God of Christians and Jews as God over the nation, though not enforcing any state religion. This "God sense" permeates our history, culture, songs, and ideas of morality--even when we ignored those ideas in our actions. This is what made the US a nation of "do-gooders" through much of our history. It also is why we were such a desirable target for those who associate a god and a religion with a nation, and see all of life as a contest between religions. We survived. But so did our enemies. One might argue that they control more people and geography now than they did in 2001. Parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Libya, other pockets of north and eastern Africa--these are now places where enemies of our nation thrive. Add Iran, Cuba, and North Korea to the mix as well. Qatar funds terrorists. Wahhabi Islam (a militant branch bent on global expansion and virulently anti-Christian) is largely funded worldwide by its strongest adherents, the royal family of Saudi Arabia.  Meanwhile, since 9/11 (and even before) the effort to gut the God-awareness from our national consciousness has only sped up.

Our nation's enemies do not think of the aftermath of 9/11 as a defeat, any more than Israel's Palestinian foes do. They just see this as a continuing battle, where we've not been able to defeat them.

After the fall of communism in the 1990's, people talked about the "end of history" and America as the world's only superpower. And though it was only a faint shadow of what it had been, there was still a residue of moral fiber instilled from our past. As one who knows that history is headed toward judgment, I remember wondering when our inevitable decline from that singular dominance in the world would come. I now wonder if 9/11 was that turning point? I don't know. I was born after America's first stalemate at war (Korea). I was raised during the time of our first defeat (Vietnam). I rejoiced to see the end of the Cold War as Communism crumbled in Europe and the former Soviet Union. As we mark another 9/11, I think about victories that have turned sour in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the current butchery of ISIS. My heart is not filled with nationalistic pride or belief that we will always win.

Instead, I'm praying for a nation that was given so many providential blessings and advantages, but has lost its way and its soul (if one can speak of a nation having one). Perhaps the growing danger of the world that is coming home to us will be God's instrument to awaken repentance and faith. Maybe our abandonment of the national "civic religion" that acknowledged but did not truly submit to God will open the way for the true Gospel to stand out boldly and lead to the true conversion of many. Let us hope that we who believe that all the nations of this world are ultimately under the power of the evil one will abandon the false hopes we have had in government, politicians, and military might. These are all adequate for specific earthly tasks assigned by God to rulers, but they all make terrible saviors.

I'm remembering those stories that need to be remembered, and praying that I might be as true to my Lord, my family and friends, and my neighbors as countless numbers were  to theirs on that unforgettable day.