It’s been 18 years since the twin towers fell on that unsuspecting September morning. Before that day, 9/11 was simply a date on the calendar. It came and went each year with little fanfare or deep reflection. But once the towers were destroyed, the Pentagon was hit, and the heroes of Flight 93 made their stand to prevent further loss of life, our nation made a solemn vow that we would never forget.
Within the span of just a few hours, the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought Americans face to face with evil. Using four planes, the terrorist group al-Qaeda took from us the lives of thousands and struck fear into our hearts. Among the fallen were mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons. Left behind to grieve were children, parents, loved-ones, and friends. And in the wake of the attacks, people across the United States were fearful, feeling vulnerable and exposed.
I was only in the ninth grade then, but my memories of that day are some of the strongest of my youth. I watched in real time as the towers burned. I remember sitting in civics class, looking down at my textbook, and wondering what that day would mean to future generations. Probably my most vivid memory is the fear and uncertainty that seemed to grip us all, not just my classmates and me, but those we looked to for guidance: Teachers. Parents. Pastors. No one seemed to be at peace or certain about the future.
Initially, no one knew what to make of things. It wasn’t clear at first that America was under attack. And once it was, all of us were bracing for further violence and destruction, not only in the days that followed, but for months and years to come. The tragic events of 9/11 robbed us of our collective sense of security. All around us, there was pain and fear and grief. And in the face of terror and trauma, Americans wondered how we would ever begin to heal. Would we would ever be okay? Could life ever feel normal again?
Civility in the midst of tragedy
But in the aftermath of this tragedy, something truly extraordinary happened. On the very day of the attacks, leaders in Washington did something rarely seen. Together, in a stunning display of unity, roughy 150 Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to help a grieving nation heal. After observing a moment of silence, the assembly began to sing the lyrics of “God Bless America.” And for that brief moment in time, there were no Democrats or Republicans, congressmen or senators. There were only Americans.
Among those memories of fear and loss and pain, is also a reminder of hope. And Christians bear the burden of reminding the world that hope has a name: Jesus.
It was a powerful display, and one the country needed. No, civil religion can’t save anyone. Christians know that it is only repentance and faith in the finished work of Jesus that brings forth salvation. But even so, there is something significant about the song that the men and women elected to lead our nation spontaneously chose to sing that day. In the midst of tragedy, in the midst of suffering, in the face of evil, there is no comfort apart from faith. And from that awful position of weakness, those elected officials put aside their differences and asked for God’s divine blessing on the United States.
What Christians must remember
Each year the memory of 9/11 grows a little more faint. With each year that passes without the threat of foreign terrorists attacking Americans on U.S. soil, our sense of peace and security grows a little stronger. Still, Americans must always remember the lives that were lost on 9/11. We must always remember the grief we suffered. We must always remember the acts of heroism. And we must always maintain our posture of vigilance.
But as Christians, there is something else we must remember. For followers of Jesus, 9/11 will always serve as a stark reminder of the fact that there is, even now, a real war ever-raging. As we witnessed the day the twin towers fell, there really are forces of darkness seeking our destruction, and the prince of this world will continue to fight on until the Prince of peace returns to crush his head. Sep. 11 showed us the fierceness of the darkness; we must carry forth that memory and continue pointing toward the light.
I doubt that the Members of Congress singing “God Bless America” resulted in many people repenting of their sins and trusting in Jesus. But there is a reason so many found comfort in a song about God’s favor and protection. And that reason is hope—the kind of hope that is found only in God. In his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” the monk-turned-reformer, Martin Luther, spoke of the hope that stands against the forces of darkness in this world: “And though this world with devils filled, shall threaten to undo us. We will not fear for God hath willed, his truth to triumph through us.”
Sept. 11 was an awful day in the history of the United States. With unparalleled devastation, it revealed the ugliness of sin and the very worst of its effects. And despite whatever good may come from it, Americans today are still haunted by its memory. Yet, among those memories of fear and loss and pain, is also a reminder of hope. And Christians bear the burden of reminding the world that hope has a name: Jesus.