Sept. 11, 2001 – a day that all of us who are old enough to remember will never forget. It’s one of those “where were you when?…” events that mark and mar human and social history.
Nearly 3,000 lives were lost. More than 6,000 others were injured that day, and over the years since, many other lives have been lost, mostly first responders who courageously rushed into the devastation despite great danger.
Four jet airliners were commandeered that morning by terrorists, two of them flown into the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, New York, one into the Pentagon, and a fourth forced into the ground in rural Pennsylvania before it could reach another terror target.
Not long ago, a congresswoman described the murderous acts of 9/11 as “somebody did something.” But for many of us, that “something” was akin to the Dec.
7, 1971 attack by Japanese naval and air forces on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 military and civilian personnel and injuring more than 1,000. The following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt labeled it, “a date which will live in infamy.”
As the mournful anniversary of what is commonly known as “9/11” reaches its 20th year, it’s a time for reflection. Like many people, I was at work. One of our staff came to tell me one of the towers had been struck. Several of us gathered in front of a conference room TV to watch the news coverage.
Some felt led to pray for the victims; while we were praying, we heard the report that the second tower had been hit by another airliner. This confirmed to all that this was an intentional, planned event. Our eyes remained riveted on the TV screen as first one smoke-spewing tower, then the other, collapsed in an enormous heap.
After the reality of what has just happened started to settle in, I thought of my friend Jerry, who lived in Bayonne, N.J., across the river from Manhattan, and worked in the North Tower. A few years earlier, I had enjoyed lunch with him and another friend in the famed Windows of the World restaurant, located on the tower’s 107th floor. Could he have been in the tower?
Providentially, Jerry was not. After staying up to watch a Monday Night Football game, he had failed to properly set the high-tech clock radio he had received the previous Christmas, and the alarm never went off. Being sole proprietor of his Manhattan business, Jerry had decided not to make his usual commute into the city. Instead, he was sitting at his kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the morning newspaper when one of his daughters called, frantically hoping he was safe.
Jerry immediately turned on his TV and saw the destruction of the iconic towers unfold. Unlike most viewers, he personally knew dozens of people trapped in the North Tower, the final minutes of their lives caught up in the chaos. Had he awakened on time and ridden the subway to the station under 1 World Trade Center, Jerry likely would have been on the 77th floor visiting with friends when the building was rammed. To this day, my friend grieves their loss – and still marvels at how God spared his own life because an alarm clock didn’t wake him up.
Twenty years later, grim memories remain. From a spiritual perspective, what can we glean from this heinous terrorist plot? Of many possible lessons we could draw from, I’ll suggest only a few:
First, the senseless acts of 9/11 gave us indelible evidence of the prevalence of evil in our world. In one of the Bible’s most powerful prophetic books we read, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Many years later Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:35). If there was any doubt about this, watching commercial passenger jets crash into the glistening towers dispelled it.
Second, virtually all of us go through life planning for tomorrow, next week, next year. The tragedies of 9/11 were a grim reminder that we’re not guaranteed five minutes from now, let alone tomorrow or some later time. Using a parable about a rich fool, Jesus taught about life’s brevity and the importance of establishing and keeping proper priorities. In the story, a rich man had accumulated so many goods and such an abundant crop that he resolved to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones. “…But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21).
Sadly, the past year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic also has pressed this point home, with people we know falling victim to the virus. Young or old, we need to be prepared for the day we will stand before the Lord. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). While this refers specifically to what is commonly known as “the end times,” it can also apply to our final moments on earth.
One last point: During His earthly ministry, Jesus made a habit of presenting unconventional teachings. One was His response to the commonly accepted view of retribution, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” During Jesus’ “sermon on the mount,” He gave an opposing perspective:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47).
This is one of the most difficult of Jesus’ messages to grasp and apply. We don’t want to love our enemies. We want vengeance, to make those who hurt us pay a severe price. We certainly don’t want to forgive. This, however, is one of the precepts that separates the teaching of Jesus Christ and Christianity from any other religion or belief system. How can we love our enemies, those who persecute and seek to harm us, even kill us? This is only possible through the presence and power of God’s Spirit living in us.
Let’s hope and pray we don’t need another 9/11-type of calamity to remind us of these truths.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.