When most Americans think of the good of 9/11, they think of the courageous police and firefighters and their self sacrifice. In all, 343 firefighters and 72 police officers from across New York died in the World Trade Center collapse. Many of them were helping injured and frightened people escape the towers and died when the towers collapsed around them. One of the first casualties of the attack was FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge. Father Mike was hit by falling debris and killed while administering last rites to victim. The picture of four firefighters carrying Father Mike’s body is an iconic image of 9/11. John wrote in the Bible, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
More good was done in the days after the attacks. Americans across the country turned out to give blood to help the survivors of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Volunteers and fire crews from all across America came to New York to help in the recovery operation at Ground Zero. For a few brief moments, America was more united in the wake of the attacks than it had been since World War II. The story of the heroic resistance of the passengers on United Flight 93 inspired the whole country.
There was no shortage of badness on 9/11. Indeed, that is why the day is remembered. The hijackers subscribed a religious belief that it is more honorable to kill, destroy, and die than to live and create. To the hijackers and their murderous leaders in al Qaeda, killing thousands of innocent people without provocation or warning was as acceptable as killing animals.
Osama bin Laden railed against America, largely without being noticed, for years before 9/11. He likened the U.S. military to latter day “crusaders” in a 1996 fatwa. Bin Laden believed that the American withdrawals in the wake of terror attacks in Beirut, Yemen, and Somalia meant that “the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.” Bin Laden believed that his hijackers could exploit that weakness on American home soil and drive westerners from Muslim countries. To that end, he indoctrinated his followers with promises of paradise as a reward for killing Americans: “Those youths know that their rewards in fighting you, the USA, is double than their rewards in fighting someone else not from the people of the book. They have no intention except to enter paradise by killing you.”
When the hijackers took control of the four airliners, it was with the belief that murder was their path to heaven. When they slit the throat of the flight attendants to gain access to the cockpits, it was in a vain attempt to save their own souls. When they crashed the planes into their targets, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” it was an attempt to secure their own salvation. In a sense, the 2,996 victims of Osama bin Laden and his men were paying for the sins of the hijackers. Their deaths were celebrated by much of the Muslim world. In the Quran, Surat al Maideh 32 says, “if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind.”
The victims included six Georgians. Maynard Spence of Douglasville, Harshad Thatte of Norcross, Adam White of Atlanta, and Claude Michael Gann of Roswell died in the World Trade Center. Leslie Whittington of Atlanta died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. U.S. Army Maj. Steve Long of Georgia died in the Pentagon.
The 9/11 attacks are symbolic of the evil in the hearts of men. They remind us that even though mankind is civilized, we are still a savage, cruel and brutal race. They erase any doubt about the existence of pure, unadulterated evil. The presence of a demonic figure in smoke billowing from the World Trade Center may or may not have been a literal demon, but it was certainly symbolic of the evil act just committed.
Why is man so evil? It isn’t because God willed it. It was never God’s intention for the world to be this way.
Man is evil because we choose to be that way. Paul wrote that the truth of God is plain to everyone and that truth is only suppressed by theRomans 1:18-23). The fundamental truth that it is wrong to murder your fellow human beings was suppressed by bin Laden’s promises of paradise. While most of us don’t go out and murder thousands of people, we do suppress God’s fundamental moral truths in order to lie, cheat, and steal on a regular basis.
What hope do we have? Spiritually, our hope is in Christ, who died for us. Even though our sins seem to pale in comparison to those of bin Laden and the terrorists, we still fall short of the requirement (Romans 3:10, Romans 6:23). Our only hope for salvation and forgiveness is to accept Christ’s sacrifice (Romans 10:9-10). There is no need to wage a holy war.
Physically, our hope is that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This doesn’t mean that only good things happen to believers. It does mean that God has the ability to turn evil into blessings. Notably, this hope is not given to those who do not love God. The cross-shaped debris found in the rubble of the World Trade Center is symbolic of God’s presence, even in the fiery hell of the collapsing towers.
What blessings have come from the 9/11 attacks? We may never know fully. We do know that the attacks resulted in the liberation of two countries. The uprisings of the Arab Spring that are toppling dictators across the Muslim world may be the result of events set in motion by the attacks. Thanks to increased American involvement in the Arab world, Muslims have gotten a glimpse of compassion and forgiveness as American military doctors save the lives of their former enemies, people who would happily torture them to death if the situation were reversed. Two of the most heartwarming stories of the war on terror are those of Hannan and Razia, girls from Iraq and Afghanistan who were horribly burned during combat. Americans cared for the girls and provided them with much more assistance than they would have gotten at home.
Less visible, but no less important are the spiritual results. We will never know how many hearts were opened to God by the events on 9/11. God’s comfort and strength were all that enabled the families of some survivors to go on. Perhaps some of the victims would tell us how God comforted them in their final moments as “I was there” suggests. God calls us all, as evidenced by the reports of supernatural dreams and visions directing thousands of Muslims to Christ.
The 9/11 attacks can be viewed as a warning. They remind us that nothing is assured. Our comfortable lives can be snuffed out at a moment’s notice, whether by a terrorist attack, a car accident, or some natural cause. We are reminded to pay attention to what is important, to serve God, to love our families, and to help others. We know what we’re supposed to do.
[Thanks to Debi Thornton for the inspiring for this article.]
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