Reflections on the September 11th Terrorist Attacks
Tim Haile

October 22, 2001

   Most of us have seen the video footage and heard the news reports several times. Events like the one that occurred on that dreadful morning of September 11, 2001 occasion memories and impact our lives in such a way that we will never forget them, while in the flesh. Having viewed the video clips showing the aircraft slam into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, and having monitored subsequent news reports about these attacks, I can understand the feelings of some, that the news media has saturated our lives with thoughts of these horrendous tragedies. I may agree that for most of us, it would be a waste of valuable time for us to become so overly preoccupied with these attacks that we can neither think about, nor do anything else. However, there are some aspects of these attacks that we would do well to consider.

Let us reflect upon the frailty of human life

   There is a strong tendency for men and women to view themselves as being almost indestructible. There is a simple reason for many having this attitude. They do not wish to view themselves as weak. But the real problem is pride. It is often difficult to tell whether the pride is the cause of the relaxed sense of security, or if it results from it. Either way, a proud disposition is sinful. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). God “hates” a “proud look” (Prov. 6:17). Jesus described arroganceas one of the sins that proceeds out of a person’s heart, and defiles him (Mark 7:22). Both Peter and James spoke of God resisting the proud and giving grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6).

   A classic example of this connection between pride and a sense of invulnerability and invincibility is seen in the judgment against the Edomites. Both Jeremiah and Obadiah foretold their destruction, and both prophets pointed out the connection between their pride and their feeling of self-security. Obadiah wrote:

1. “Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom -- We have heard a report from the LORD, And an envoy has been sent among the nations saying, "Arise and let us go against her for battle
2. "Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You are greatly despised.
3. "The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, You who live in the clefts of the rock, In the loftiness of your dwelling place, Who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to earth?'
4. "Though you build high like the eagle, Though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," declares the LORD” (Obadiah 1:1-4, NASU).

   The Edomites’ proud feeling of invincibility stemmed from their fortress like dwelling places. They felt untouchable. However, in Nebuchadnezzar and his powerful Babylonian military forces, God had an effective agent in accomplishing His judgments against other wicked nations. Edom would pay for its crimes, and any perceived logistical advantages that they thought to have against an attacker would be neutralized. Their pride and feeling of invulnerability would lead to their destruction.

   Let us reflect upon those terrible September attacks and be impressed with our own feebleness. It is true that God made humans strong and resilient, but let us also remember that He composed our physical bodies of destructible materials – flesh, bones and blood. Our bodies are therefore quite vulnerable to many different kinds of destructive forces; whether they are natural forces such as high winds and floods, or man made forces such as crashes, explosions and projectiles.

Let Us Reflect Upon “Time and Chance”

   There has been much talk about the possible role that the recent terrorist attacks have played in God’s overall scheme in modern human affairs. Though it may generate some interesting stories and theories, this talk will end up in the category of simple human speculation. The realm of divine providence is God’s realm, not ours. We simply don’t have enough information to formulate definite and accurate conclusions about God’s possible involvment in human affairs. Solomon described such tragedies this way:

11. “I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.
12. “Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, NASU).

   Notice that regardless of one’s speed, strength, stratagem, wisdom, or ability, “time and chance happen to them all.” Tragedy may strike “suddenly” at anytime and anywhere! No one is exempt from the possibility of being victimized by evil times. The September 11th terrorist attacks did not target specific individuals; the targets were freedom and democracy.

   Jesus spoke of random acts of terror in Luke 13. Consider the following:

1. “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
2. “And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?
3. "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
4. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?
5. "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5, NASU).

   What did Jesus say was the reason for the these terrible tragedies? Did He represent Pilate’s inhumane actions against the Galileans as constituting a “divine judgment” from God? And regarding the tower of Siloam: Did its collapse represent God’s judgment against those 18 people? No, the Lord cited these examples to illustrate the fact that all have sinned (cp. Romans 3:23) and all will perish if they do not repent of their sins (verses 3,5). These deaths were the result of “time and chance” happening to people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time! Pilate’s actions constituted a deliberate act of terror against certain people who happened to be there at that time and place. The same was true with the tower of Siloam. They were the victims of random tragedy.

   God can and may execute such physical judgments against people in these last days, but as humans, apart from special divine revelation we simply lack the ability to know with absolute certainty. We may speculate and guess as to whether or not a particular tragedy or disaster was caused by God, but we are no at liberty to assert such conclusions as fact.

   Job’s example serves us well on this point. Though he suffered immensely, yet his sufferings did not constitute or reflect any divine judgment against him. Job suffered the loss of his sons and daughters, his vast possessions and his good health. Furthermore, his wife and his three friends turned against him (Job 1;2). Who was responsible for these afflictions? Not God, but the devil!

The Spiritual Danger in Misinterpreting Disasters

   I have witnessed cases where Christians actually placed themselves in great spiritual danger for rashly concluding that some misfortune in their life was the result of God’s judgment against them. Those who interpret these mournful events in this way are always forced to assume that they must have done something wrong to deserve such a divine response. Their immediate response is to begin changing things in their life. These changes are made, not on the basis of reasoned responses to God's word, but on the basis of the tragedy. Then, most often, the changes will include actions in the spiritual realm. This can be quite dangerous. For, what if the tragedy was merely a random act of chance in this person’s life? What if the individual’s attitude and conduct were actually righteous before the tragedy struck! In such cases, the child of God beats himself up and makes important life altering changes for the worst, rather than for the better! We would do well to recall the patience of Job. Job suffered, not because he was living wrong, but because he was living right!

   Many people are injured or killed every day as a result of chance tragedies. Thousands of deaths occur every year in North America alone, as a result of vehicle and job related accidents. These deaths do not necessarily indicate a divine judgment from God! They may only mean that something unexpected, unforeseeable, and unavoidable occurred. Indeed, let us reflect upon the fact that “time and chance” happen to them all.

Let Us Reflect Upon the Brevity of Life

   James said:

13. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’
14. “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14, NASU).

   Whether in the air or on the ground, those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, did not wake up on that morning with any expectation that tragedy would strike them. After all, doesn’t that kind of thing always happen “to the other guy?” This is how we often think! The terrorist attacks should be a wake up call to us. James cautioned us against the spirit of over-confidence. He wanted us to contemplate the brevity and fragility of life. It is like a vapor that dissipates into the air in the moment that conditions change. Fog appears under certain weather and climatic conditions, but as soon as those conditions change the fog vanishes. Just as humans are powerless to affect or control the forces that create and then elimanate that fog, so it is with our lives. Conditions and circumstances beyond our ability to control may snuff out our lives in a moment. Life can turn to death in an instant. This is what happened to thousands of people in the World Trade Center buildings and at the Pentagon. Let us consider this carefully. Any most importantly, let us be spiritually ready when such a moment comes.

Tim Haile

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