The Lessons We Didn’t Learn From 9/11
Today a brand-new World Trade Center stands in the spot where wreckage smoldered 19 years ago. We’ve rebuilt, but what have we learned?
I was 11.
Mr. Dean and Mr. Blackwell had a clunky old CRT television mounted to the wall in the corner of their shared classroom. It was silver, I think, and had a VHS player.
We were in the middle of a lesson when a teacher rushed in and turned on the TV. There was smoke rolling out of a building I’d never seen before. People were panicked. They were saying someone had flown a plane into a building.
It was … surreal. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. How could I? I lived in America. America. That sort of thing didn’t happen here. It happened in other countries, or in movies, or … somewhere that wasn’t here.
Memorializing 9/11 while forgetting the lesson
For the United States, 9/11 was the day the world stopped turning—the day we were reminded that, yes, that sort of thing can happen here. That we are vulnerable. That we can bleed.
Four years ago, I visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum with my wife and parents. One of the larger exhibits focused on the events and aftermath of 9/11. There, in a circular room, stood a warped and twisted support beam salvaged from the wreckage of one of the towers. Screens set into the wall were playing time-stamped news footage on a continuous loop—the same footage I had watched in my sixth-grade classroom 19 years ago.
There’s a new World Trade Center now. It’s taller, more impressive and more imposing than before. One of the new support beams bears an inscription from President Obama: “We remember, we rebuild, we come back stronger!” But that gnarled beam in the presidential library was a sobering reminder:
We can rebuild, but we can’t undo. We can come back stronger, but not invincible. We can remember what happened, but still forget the lesson.
Could something like 9/11 happen again?
For an extremely brief window of time, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers prompted many Americans to reexamine their lives and ask some probing questions. But it didn’t last. After 9/11, Gallup reported that church attendance in the U.S. jumped from 41 percent to 47 percent. Less than two years later, that percentage was down to 38 percent. Last year it hovered around 34 percent, with 79 percent of Americans agreeing that religion is losing its influence on American life.
For an extremely brief window of time, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers prompted many Americans to reexamine their lives and ask some probing questions. But it didn’t last. The effect faded with the shock, and nothing since then has left enough of an impact to replicate it. We’ve had mass shootings, we’ve had political and civil unrest, we’ve faced multiple moral issues contentious enough to divide the nation into staunch, unyielding camps—but through it all, our nation’s churches have only become emptier and emptier.
Why is that? As a nation, we’re increasingly less interested in what God has to say. More to the point, we’re increasingly less convinced that what He says matters—or that He even exists at all. The events of 9/11 were enough of a shock to make many of us reconsider our stance on those questions—but maybe now it feels like nothing like that could ever happen again.
But tragedy can strike again. Worse, the Bible assures us that it will.
A promised time of trouble far worse than 9/11
For much of its history, the United States has been on the receiving end of tremendous blessings. We can trace these blessings back to a promise made by God to Abraham, one of His faithful servants: “I will make you a great nation. … In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Throughout the book of Genesis, God repeats and expands on that promise, painting a prophecy that is still in the process of being realized. But those blessings come with conditions. God warned the nation of ancient Israel, “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15).
Sept. 11 was tragic, but prophecy tells us that day will pale in comparison to what’s coming.The United States isn’t a perfect analogy to ancient Israel. That nation was in a special covenant relationship with God—the United States isn’t in the same way at this time. But God’s rules and expectations remain the same. He certainly isn’t going to continue pouring out His blessings on a nation so determined to systematically remove Him from every facet of its day-to-day affairs.
The Bible speaks of a coming time of trouble for Abraham’s descendants—a time that is “great, so that none is like it” (Jeremiah 30:7). Sept. 11 was tragic, but prophecy tells us that day will pale in comparison to what’s coming.
What is coming? Is there anything you can do about it? Why is it happening? How did we get here? What’s the bigger picture?
Each of those questions deserves serious study and reflection, and we’ve prepared some booklets to help you do just that:
- The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy traces the blessings given to Abraham to the present day, explaining where the United States, Britain and the rest of the world fit into the story.
- Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering? tackles the difficult question of why the world is the way it is and why God allows it to continue on that way.
- The Book of Revelation: The Storm Before the Calm explores the Bible’s prophecies about the end time found in the Bible’s last book—and what comes afterward.
- From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You walks step-by-step through the holy day plan revealed in the pages of the Bible. God has an incredible plan for the future, and He wants you to be part of it.
This Sept. 11, we at Life, Hope & Truth pause to reflect on the men and women who lost (and gave) their lives 19 years ago on this tragic day—and we look toward a promised future when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
May God speed that day.