“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7).
“ The tower of Shechem must have been a massive structure to hold a thousand people. But it was a worthless refuge for those who trusted in idols. By contrast, ‘the name of the Lord is a strong tower…’” (Tabletalk, Sept. 11, 2001).
Throughout history, events of cata-clysmic proportions routinely serve as markers and points of reference for the generation that endured the catastrophe, and even for its pos-terity. For ancient Israel, their emancipation from bondage in Egypt was just such an event, as evidenced by the preamble to the Decalogue, and the many other subsequent references. Later, their captivity to Assyria and Babylon respectively eclipsed Egypt as an epoch making event, but served the same purpose.
The World Wars of the last century overshadowed all previous modern wars, and became the historical markers for Europeans. For Americans, Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, and a series of high profile assassinations in the 60’s became even more prominent historical markers.
It is to expected that September 11, 2001 will be the new historical marker for this generation ofAmericans. High School history textbooks slated for publication next year are quickly being revised in order to incorporate the events of September 11. The impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, the Unibomber, and Timothy McVeigh may now only be footnotes or receive peripheral attention in recent American history. Already, our language is being conditioned to say: “before September 11,” “since September 11,” “after the September 11 attacks,” or “because of September 11.”
Indeed, words are inadequate to describe the horror of that frightful Tuesday morning. How shocking a sight it was. We watched helplessly as the second plane plowed into the south tower, and as both towers and adjacent buildings were peeled apart, engulfed by a thick cloud of dust, and swallowed by the earth. From a distance, we heard the cries and felt the anguish and agony of those trapped inside who had to decide between being incinerated by 2000° of heat, or plunging 100 stories to their inescapable death. Between 8:45 a.m. and 10:28 a.m., the landscape of New York City, and the outlook of all Americans had changed irreparably. The financial heart of the world was brought to its knees, and under the debris laid some 3500 victims.
In addition, the most powerful military headquarters the world has ever known was under siege, and had partially collapsed; the leader of the free world, accompanied by fighter jets, was rushed to one Air Force base after another for security purposes; the white house and all federal buildings in Washington were evacuated. In the days that followed, the stock market saw $1.6 trillion of its value go up in figurative smoke; the nation, indeed the world, had suffered incalculable, and in some cases irretrievable losses. What was perhaps most vexing of all was that behind the attacks were only razor blades, and some careful, if malicious, planning by a few religious fanatics.
Surely to a nation that has the world’s strongest economy and the most powerful arsenal; and to a generation that has barely any remembrance of tragedy; that combination of events has to raise pertinent and persistent questions. But the questions that emerged were not only for the world; they were also for the Church. In light of those events, Christians have some questions to ask of the world. Chief among them is this: “Where, America, is your trust? What is your only comfort in life and in death? What is your chief and highest end?”
That heinous and cowardly attack told the world nothing new about the predisposition and propensity of terrorists to generate terror. They can’t help themselves; it’s their nature, and we know it. Nor did the magnitude of the loss of life and property in itself constitute the enormity of the tragedy. Other nations have suffered worse calamities and casualties from floods, famine, war, diseases, or earthquakes.
Frankly, the only surprise here was that such a tragedy could happen to America, to New York, to the WTC towers, that quintessence of American capitalism, and to the Pentagon, that symbol of unprecedented military might. Immediately following the attacks, the world was spellbound, almost in disbelief and denial. It was inconceivable that the mighty USA could be caught so unguarded, so vulnerable, and so weak. Presumably, such horrors were supposed to occur elsewhere. We were only supposed to cover them as newsworthy events, or dramatize them in motion pictures, but not live them on our soil. “We are Americans!” How could this be? People immediately sought a scapegoat: perhaps the failure of the Intelligence community was the culprit, or laxed immigration laws, or inefficient airport securities, or the failure of the previous administration to expunge terrorism.
The dismay quickly led to a search for heroes, something to make us feel that we were not totally defeated somehow, and that we had won the day after all: perhaps the firefighters are the heroes, perhaps the police officers, perhaps the brave passengers of flight 93, or perhaps the mayor of New York City. Perhaps we can say we became better because of it: note the patriotism, the civility in Congress, the feeling of unity and community that pervades the nation, the unification of various factions and faiths. Stunned America needed something to hold on to for solace.
A few days later, our Commander in Chief told the nation: “we’re not going to let terrorists hold this nation hostage.” Unfortunately, they had already done more than that; Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together. 911 was not just the date, it was also an emergency symbol for a nation in crisis. The “invisible enemy” had paralyzed the nation, shocked the world, sent our Commander in Chief into hiding, further enfeebled our economy, and there was nothing Alan Greenspan—despite his generous and aggressive rate cuts—could do about it. All the securities we once knew had been transformed into a veritable climax of insurmountable vulnerabilities. Where, O man, is your trust? That, is the question we must begin the New Year with.
King David was a formidable warrior. He had seen the ostensible might of man, and worthlessness of that might. The Bible is full of examples of men who had put their trust either in themselves, their gods, their wealth, or their military stratagems, only to crumble before the Lord, and dashed to pieces by His might. The greatest empires of the past had bowed the knees to Yahweh and His power. Twenty first century America will not be different. The people of my generation had come to believe in themselves as Lord, redeemer, and provider. Now people are realizing that indeed: “no king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite its great strength, it cannot save…” (Ps. 33:16–17).
As we enter this New Year, let us challenge Americans and the world of our day to put its trust not in man, not in Washington, not in science, not in Wall Street, and not in themselves, but in the Lord. The world has already admitted that there is no longer a safe haven in America. Let us then challenge them to seek refuge in the only haven given to man — God (Ps. 46:1ff). Let us challenge the world to seek the things that are above, to amass and store up treasures where planes do not crash and towers are impervious to terrorist attacks. Call on America to rebuild on the Rock, and not on self.
Rev. Patrick Edouard is the pastor of the Covenant Reformed Church of Toronto, Etobicoke, Onatario, Canada.