I can remember thinking in high school what it would be like to live through a historical moment. I wondered what it would be like to have my grandchildren gathered around me as I recount my personal experiences during a dangerous or fascinating time. There was an appeal to it. I wanted to live history. I wanted to be in thick of it all and retell the stories. But then 9/11 happened. Everything changed that day. I no longer had to wonder what living history would be like, because I was living it.
I have heard older generations saying they remembered where they were and what they were doing when history happened. Everyone knows where they were when Kennedy was shot or when Armstrong left footprints on the moon. I remember everything about that September morning. I was in my junior year of college. I had just woken up and was getting ready to take a shower. One of my roommates came out of his room (our upperclassmen dorms had 4 individual rooms in one suite) and told us to turn on the news, that something was strange was happening. It was 9:00 am and the news was reporting that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City. No one seemed to know what was happening. But then, to our horror, we watched as another plane hit the other tower. This was no accident. America was under attack. All four of us sat in front of the television in silence. There were no words. Only shock. Only fear. Only rage. All expressed in silence.
At 9:30, the Pentagon was hit. Despite the horror and confusion that reigned that morning, I still had class, Business Law. The walk to class was eerie. Students walked in silence, with their heads down. When I got the class, our professor prayed and told us to go to our dorms and call our families and tell them we love them.
By the time I had returned, I learned that the first tower hit had collapsed and that another plane had crashed, this time in a field in Pennsylvania. Apparently the passengers had attempted to regain control of the plane and the hijackers crashed it to prevent their capture. I felt sick. But I could not look away from the television. More reports poured in about people jumping to their deaths from the top of the tower. At 10:28, the second tower crumbled. We watched as ash and smoke flooded the streets. The shock only deepened. The fear only increased. The rage turned from simmering to seething.
Rumors began to spread that gas prices were going to go through the roof the next day. Myself, one of my roommates and his fiancé all drove to the nearest little town by our school to fill up our tanks. We waited in line for over an hour. It seems we were not the only ones who believed the rumors.
On campus there was a growing urgency to do something. Many went to the local blood banks to give blood. Students organized a prayer vigil and many attended. Yet, nothing seemed to help. The rawness we all felt would not lift.
On this day, 10 years later, there is still a rawness. As I look at pictures or hear the news reports as they were on that day, tears will come to my eyes. For this is what happens when we face evil and live to tell about it. If there is one thing we can thank God for in light of the tragedies of that day, it is that the word “Evil” is back on the minds of Americans. Each year on this date, we remember what it was like to look evil in the eye. This is a phenomenal thing in post-Christian America. The secular world tells us that there is no right or wrong, that truth is relative and personal. They tell us that there is no over-arching story that governs the world. And yet, on 9/11, they will all call the acts of that day “evil.” Curious, is it not? That those who deny right and wrong would vociferously condemn the acts of others as “evil.” But there is more to learn here than the truth that evil exists. The deeper issue is where that evil exists. These terrorists, these jihadists, these evil men were not worse than us. For in all our hearts, there lies the capability that we fear to think about.
When I reflect back on the days that followed 9/11, one of my greatest disappointments in my “Christian” college was it’s Gospel-less response. Instead of comforting with us with the hope of the Gospel, or helping us see that despite the evil committed against us, that we are no morally better, that apart from the grace of God, we are all condemned, we were told we were less than Christian for feeling angry, for demanding justice. We were given the gospel-less Christianity of liberalism. During the time this all transpired, I do not believe that I was a Christian. I had a form of godliness, but denied its power. I was still enslaved. Yet, I was still able to sense that this was not right. Is not God a God of Justice? It only made me more cynical of organized Christianity. The fundamental side gave me no freedom from sin and the liberal side gave me no justice. It was 4 years later when God ravaged my hard, cynical heart with the whole Gospel and I have never been the same.
Only with the lens of the whole Gospel can we make sense of tragic events of that day. The Gospel teaches us that, yes, there is evil. It is an ancient evil seeking to devour and destroy. But the most surprising thing we learn about this ancient evil is not that it exists, but rather that it resides within us. I have within me, powers that seek to destroy me. The capability to kill, to steal, to commit awful sexual sins, to rebel against and replace God. Yes, I am no better than Osama Bin Laden. It’s chilling to even type that. And it’s true. What then is my hope? How can I even dare approach God when my heart is in the same condition as “evil” men? Again, the Gospel answers us. Jesus, the divine Son of God was born into this world. He lived the life I could not live. He was free. His heart was pure. But, Jesus did not just live a perfect life as an example for me. He lived a perfect life on my behalf. And then he suffered crucifixion on my behalf. He bore the full weight of the wrath of God so that I would not have to face that fate. And finally, God raised Him from the dead as the first of many who would be raised not only from spiritual death, but physical death in the end. There is hope for me. There is hope for you. Because Jesus lives and is at the right hand of the Father, always making intercession for us.
When we look at 9/11 through that lens, though we feel pain and remorse, we do not fear. For not even planes used as missiles or collapsing buildings can ultimately destroy us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus. Not sword or famine. Not even ourselves. We are safe in His arms.
I am glad that this 10th anniversary falls on Sunday; the day that I gather with my church family to celebrate the Gospel. For I can think of no better way to mark a decade since those tragic events than to mark the day that tragedy saw it’s defeat and Jesus rose in power and triumph over all evil, both the evil that exists in the world and the evil that exists in my heart. Jesus is Lord and He “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5).