“Daddy, where are those tall buildings and why are they on fire?” I was watching a documentary on the September 11 terrorist attacks when my oldest daughter happened to walk through the room. She was born on August 30, 2002, just a few days short of the one year anniversary of the attacks. That means she has no knowledge of what life was like before that terrible day. When I was just a little older than she is now I went on a class field trip to New York City. To this day I can still remember the excitement I felt as the tour bus drew near enough for us to see the skyline of lower Manhattan. The massive twin towers of the World Trade Center dominated our frame of view. Ever since that day their iconic image has been seared into my mind. But my daughter has never seen the twin towers and knows nothing of them. The fact that they no longer reach majestically into the sky has no personal impact on her the way it does for all of us who saw them fall on live TV.
I confess that her question made me uncomfortable ? so much so that I quickly changed the channel and redirected the conversation as though she had not asked it. That’s because I have never said anything to her about what happened on September 11. She knows nothing of hijacked airplanes or a burning Pentagon or demolished skyscrapers or a hallowed field in Pennsylvania. She is so young and innocent. Impressionable by nature, she is also easily frightened. How can I possibly talk to her about something so evil and dark? After all, I want her to wake up the next day and go to school and not be afraid. In her world she’s got enough terror already just in learning her way around a new school in a new town where she does not know anyone. Should I add to that by telling her the story of evil men who murder innocent people in such a horrific way? Or am I doing her a disservice by sheltering her from the painful truth about this world in which we live?
I think that question represents the challenge most of us face as we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11, whether we are parents of young children or not. Truth be told, we would prefer to live in blissful ignorance of the darkness and suffering we witnessed ten years ago. I would prefer to live with the image of the bright, beautiful, blue sky that hovered quietly in the background that day and forget all about the thick, acrid smoke that choked out the sunlight for a few horrific hours. But I cannot. We have to accept that evil is real. We can try to distract ourselves from the truth, but we live in a sinful and fallen world, which means that sometimes bad things happen. Very bad things. If September 11 changed anything, it changed our illusion that we are somehow immune to the suffering and sorrow that engulfs so much of the world. In this world, there is no such thing as a guarantee of security. Clearly, the events of 9/11 are the exception and not the rule of daily existence; we do not have to expect that kind of horror everyday. But we do have to accept that we are fragile beings. Sorrow and suffering sooner or later finds its way into every life.
That is why it is so important to remember that the Christian faith is born out of terror and tragedy. Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, died a slow and agonizing death at the hands of wicked men. We may lament the innocent suffering we witnessed on September 11, but there has only been one truly innocent One. All Jesus ever did was speak truth, show love, and give life. There was not an ounce of darkness in him ? no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives, no evil intent; only pure goodness. And for that he was stripped, humiliated, beaten, and nailed to a cross in the most horrific form of death the ancient world could conceive. It was Rome’s way of flexing its muscles and showing what happened when anyone threatened their way of life. Sounds like the perfect definition of terrorism to me.
Yet it was out of that dark moment that the greatest victory in the history of the cosmos was won. Evil took its best shot at Goodness, and for a little while it looked as though Darkness won. But three days later the tomb was empty. The good news of the gospel is that no terror is great enough to defeat what God is trying to accomplish in this world. This is just as true in the post 9/11 world as it was before.
If it were up to me, the story of salvation would have been written differently. God would win by crushing and avoiding evil all together, not by willingly submitting to it. But God writes the story according to his plot, not mine. That is why the cross was not an accident on the way to redemption. The horror of Good Friday did not happen because God got confused or because Jesus momentarily slipped up and let his guard down; it happened because from the beginning God intended for it to happen this way. God chose an act of sorrow and shame as the very time and place when salvation would be made available.
None of this explains why September 11 had to happen. That is a question I simply cannot answer. But I can tell you that as believers we have to look at the events of that dark day in the light of what happened on an even darker day over two millennia ago. It is because of the cross that we can have any confidence that evil does not have the final say. No terrorist plot, no matter how elaborate or twisted, will determine the outcome of this world. We say that the world changed on September 11, and it certainly feels that way. But that’s not really true. The world changed on AD 33, when the incarnate Son of God confronted the powers of darkness with nothing but pure love and came out alive on the other side.
Thanks be God!