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There are some days you don’t forget. Your first kiss. The day you got your driver’s license. Your wedding day. The birth of your child. These days are important personal milestones in our lives, and most of us can remember not just the events, but the feelings and emotions that accompanied them.
There are some days Americans don’t forget. July 4, 1776. The Alamo (OK, that one isn’t a day, but you get the idea). Pearl Harbor. When John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. were shot. These dates have been burned into our national psyche.
Ten years ago, another day was added to the list of days our country never will forget: Sept. 11, 2001.
Like Pearl Harbor before it, this is a “day that will live in infamy.” And though Pearl Harbor is considered the beginning of World War II (from our perspective), the reality is that the war had been going on for some time. However, it took Pearl Harbor to rouse the American people and propel us into the fray.
In much the same way, 9-11-2001 is seen by many as the beginning of the “War on Terror” (from our perspective). However, the reality is that the war had been going on for some time, but it took the shock of 9-11 to awaken us to it. And awaken us it did, at least for a little while.
But as time goes by, it seems that some – particularly in our government – are beginning to forget. The “War on Terror” has become an “overseas contingency operation.” Terroristic acts have become “man-caused disasters.”
“Evil” and “terrorist” have become words used only to describe one’s domestic political opponents and not those engaged (from their perspective) in a “holy war” that will only be over when “idolatry does not exist any longer and Allah’s religion reigns universally.” (Quran 8:39)
This weekend, people will gather at locations all around the country – in churches and schools, in parks and on military bases – to remember what happened 10 years ago. The courage of policemen, firemen, emergency personnel and ordinary citizens will rightly be praised.
But what compelled some to run into the chaos while others were running out? Was it simply courage? Or was there more to it than that? What is it that would cause one person to risk his own life to save another’s, particularly one he doesn’t know?
Altruism, according to the dictionary, is “an attitude or way of behaving marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others” or “the belief that acting for the benefit of others is right and good.”
But from where does this selflessness originate? If evolution were true, there would be no such thing. Self-preservation would trump any sentimental feeling one might have for others.
Without the perspective of a Christian worldview it is impossible to understand what happened on 9-11. If we do not acknowledge that there is such a thing as good and evil, and that the capacity for evil exists within the heart of every man (as President Bush did when he described what happened as “the very worst of human nature”), there is no way we can make sense of what happened that day – or the evil that continues today.
And without the understanding that we are all created in the image of God and the truth that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), the actions of those who risked their lives to save others is incomprehensible.
As you may know, just as he has each year since he took office, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared that prayer will be excluded from the official program at this year’s public 9-11 ceremony.
In response, Rudy Washington, a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, spoke for many when he said, "This is America, and to have a memorial service where there's no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me. I feel like America has lost its way."
At a time when America needs God more than ever, it seems we are determined to push him aside. In the aftermath of 9-11, some shook their fist at God and asked, “How could you let this happen?”
Many others, however, rightly turned to God for comfort and as the source of the only explanation that made any sense.
This weekend, as you remember the tragic events of 10 years ago, may you once again be comforted and encouraged by the reality that God is present.
I leave you with the moving words of President Bush as he resolutely addressed the nation on the evening of 9-11-2001:
“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge – huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.
“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil -- the very worst of human nature – and we responded with the best of America. With the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could….
“…Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.’
“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
There are some things we should never forget.
Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org