How Should We Remember 9/11?
I’ve been thinking, the last few days, about how we should commemorate 9/11. It was such a pivotal time in history, especially for my generation. I was 23 when the Towers fell. I remember it being the moment we no longer felt isolated and safe in America. All the bad news had always happened overseas. Our wars were fought across a big ocean. But on 9/11 the enemy pierced that bubble and attacked us at the heart of our financial district.
I remember reading, over and over again, Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.
This word from God gave me great comfort in the days after September 11th, reminding me that our military superiority, our system of government, our way of life – when these all come crashing down, God is still God and still on the throne. It began a journey, in me, of strengthening my theology, forcing me to wrestle with the big questions of God’s character.
I think we should remember 9/11 in a few ways:
First, we should remind ourselves of our vulnerability and frailty, even as Americans. It’s easy to get proud as Americans. We live as privileged and prosperous as any civilization in history. We often forget that as we angle for more and complain about things we don’t have. We also need to be reminded (as we were on 9/11) that we’re not as invincible and great as we think we are. I’m hoping the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is filled with humble reflection.
Secondly, we should pause to pray for the families who lost loved ones on that fateful day. Even watching the towers fall on a TV screen from Chicago filled me with sorry and shock. I can’t imagine how the lives of so many ordinary people were forever disrupted after this attack. There are children who grew up without fathers and mothers. There are spouses with an empty spot in their beds. There are employees and employers who will be missed. Let’s pause and pray for them.
Third, we should work to promote the kind of unity we experienced on 9/11. I’ll never forget the image of the Congress standing on the steps of the Capitol building singing in unison “God Bless America.” That was such a powerful moment. I remember thinking that the politicians I had been convinced to hate – I no longer hated. There were no Republicans or Democrats. Only Americans. I know that partisanship is essential to our democracy – the free flow of ideas. In many ways, the enemies were attacking our ability to engage in this. Still, I hope that on 9/11 we put aside our partisanship and feelings for the President and Congress and remember that we are Americans. Christians should lead in this. For one day, can we stop forwarding angry political emails and stop posting nasty stuff on Facebook? That would be nice. And if we continued it for a few more days, that would be okay, too.
Fourth, we should remember that evil will always exist until Christ comes. America is the closest version of utopia that history has ever seen. And yet we’re not immune to evil. There will be no perfect kingdom until the King comes and establishes His rule over all the earth. Every generation will have evil and sin, no matter how many of the bad guys we eliminate. The hope of the world is still always the gospel message, the liberating power of the cross of Christ. This should make us more fervent in our gospel preaching and in gospel living. Would that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 would motivate us to adopt the same love of people and nations that we felt on 9/11.
Fifth, we should be filled with gratitude for the leaders who have protected us. Politicians get a bad rap because they are easy targets. We like having them to beat up because it makes us feel better. But they are people who serve in a very difficult role. They have to govern over a sinful people. Let’s pray for them as they work hard to protect us. And let’s thank President Bush and President Obama for keeping us free from terror for the last ten years. That’s no small task. And let’s thank the military and the intelligence personnel and all those who work hard on the front lines.