10 years ago, and 10 years on

by the Night Writer

Ten years ago I wasn’t blogging, but I was writing. On Sunday, September 16 I published the first essay below –  “When the Towers Fall” – in the monthly handout I prepared for our men’s ministry at church. It was based on my observations of the past few days and the role of faith and biblical understanding in those circumstances. A month later I followed up with a second essay, taking off from the words of a certain televangelist to examine the nature and purpose of judgment. I share these two essays below for a picture of that time. Later this week I’ll come back and share how I think things have – or haven’ t – changed for me and my nation in the intervening years.

When the Towers Fall

Ultimately, America’s secular façade crumbled even before its material symbols collapsed. I first turned on my radio – and heard the first words regarding Tuesday’s disaster – moments before the second tower was struck. The voices of the national news team were already urging Americans to pray for the safety of those involved. It sounded almost glib at first, but as the unreal became real and the horror increased by the minute, the references became more heartfelt, even desperate.

As our true helplessness and vulnerability became apparent, the call to pray was in every report and every story. And pray we did: alone, with our families, and in special services and vigils that themselves became news. All of this flying in the face of a culture and media that has said for years that faith and divine intervention are, at best, inappropriate if not impossible. It must have been like discovering that the kooky old aunt you’ve been keeping in the attic is the only one who knows where the family silver is buried.

But which is the true picture of America? Are we a secular society that merely pays lip service to faith when a crisis looms, or are we a nation of quiet faithful who allow ourselves to be cowed by society until circumstances give us a chance to break out? I know how our attackers would describe us.

Make no mistake, this is a spiritual and religious war. Those who attacked us chose as their main target what they perceived to be the symbolic spiritual center of our nation. Perhaps we need to ask why the most recognizable symbol – and target – of a country founded on Christian principles should turn out to be the World Trade Center.

My opinion, however, is that we are primarily a nation of faith even if the cultural spin obscures this. There are just too many blessings in our lives and too few fruitful external assaults on our freedom and security for it to be otherwise. Our country could not have developed the abundance we experience (or manage our enormous debt) without God’s favor and the generally well-intentioned (if unfocused) spiritual character of our people. The vicious and ungodly infighting of our leaders and factions in an attempt to garner power and divvy up the fruit from our foundational blessings is both sad and laughable in comparison to the desperation that much of the rest of the world lives in: we’re fleas fighting over the dog, but our biting and scratching just may drive the dog crazy (to which the dyslexic, atheistic flea shouts “there is no dog!”)

But if we’re stronger spiritually than we realize, what is the meaning of the September 11 attacks?

Every essayist worth his or her salt feels compelled to write something about what happened, and many things churned inside me this week. I wanted, however, to do my best to let God have His way. As I sought Him, I believe He led me to the scriptures in Isaiah and Zephaniah I’ve included in this publication.

Isaiah 30:8-33 (NIV)

Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness.

These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.  Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!”

Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says: “Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.”

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, `No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, `We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.”

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

 See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire. His breath is like a rushing torrent, rising up to the neck. He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction; he places in the jaws of the peoples a bit that leads them astray.  And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people go up with flutes to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel.

    The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail. The voice of the LORD will shatter Assyria; with his scepter he will strike them down. Every stroke the LORD lays on them with his punishing rod will be to the music of tambourines and harps, as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm. Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze.

ZEPHANIAH 1: 8 -18

On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the princes and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes. On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.  “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills. Wail, you who live in the market district ; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with  silver will be ruined. At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, `The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine.

“The great day of the LORD is near– near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness,  a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”

These verses are not a prophecy of this specific event, but a clear warning of the expected result of disobedience and hubris.  They confirmed the sense deep within me that – as outraged as I am toward those who perpetrated this attack – that this is within God’s will.  I am as horrified and angered by the attacks as anyone, and there is no way that I think the men who did this are justified. It is, however, a judgment. As hard as it is to say, and as hard as it may be to accept, this is God’s correction to America and especially to the Church.

I don’t want to pick any doctrinal arguments with anyone over what God causes and what He permits, but I do believe that all things are either used of God or by God to fulfill His plan. America is guilty, not of taking the terrorists or their cause lightly, but of taking God lightly; of saying “the Lord will do nothing either good or bad.” We have been distracted by our own comforts and amusements, while allowing our leaders to tickle our ears and do what they want. We and our country have chosen expedience over obedience and “relied on oppression and depended on deceit” for decades. We now find ourselves in a situation where “a thousand will flee at the threat of one” and perhaps many are willing to trade freedom for safety. (Remember that Ben Franklin said, “He who would trade freedom for safety deserves neither.”)

I know that correction is politically incorrect, and that it may seem bizarre to say that God is a loving Father who disciplines His children when there is massive destruction and thousands are dead and injured. Yet what would happen to our nation and to the Church – which should be setting the example – if we were not corrected and allowed to continue into greater disobedience and drift even farther from God?  How many would die? How much would be lost? Read the Old Testament and see what generations of disobedience brought on Israel time after time. It may not appear “just” that those who died and their friends and families pay such a price, but in reality all of our lives have always been in God’s hands since before we were born, and His perspective goes way beyond ours.

Best of all, there is a blessing in those same scriptures – the blessing that comes with correction; of restoration, and ultimately of victory. In the prayers that went up this week we did indeed turn to God. My prayer is that many – if not most – of these prayers were of repentence and for salvation, as well as for the safety, peace and well-being of our people and our country, and that we continue to keep our eyes on Him. May God continue to bless America!

What God Requires

In the days after the attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, a well-known Christian reportedly said on television that this act was God’s judgment on America because of legalized abortion, feminism, homosexuals, the ACLU and others. I didn’t see this statement myself so I can’t say if he was quoted accurately or in context, but I know these comments set off a diatribe in an editorial in my local paper. The tone and language used in the editorial seemed to me to be at least as hateful as the comments the writer was criticizing, but the gist seemed to be that even if there is a God, and even if God doesn’t like abortion or gays, people like the Christian who was being quoted are not qualified to speak for Him.

It kind of made me muse for a moment on who, between the person on television and the person writing the editorial, was more likely to actually know what is in the Bible. The report did get me thinking, however. Last month in this space I wrote that I believed that the success of the terrorist attacks was God’s judgment and meant to be a correction. I asked myself if  I believed – as the television commentator supposedly does – that these groups are specifically responsible for this correction, and does scripture support my position?

My thoughts are that abortion supporters, gays, feminists and the ACLU are not the cause of this judgment, but a symptom – right along with pornographers, adulterers, thieves, murderers, pagans, blasphemers and more. As our pastor says, “Why be surprised that sinners sin?” They sin, but the judgment is on their own heads, not on the nation’s. The judgment falls on the nation because of the leaders who either don’t understand or ignore their sacred oaths and the people who know better but say and do nothing.

Jesus said in Luke 12:47-50, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master requires will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

The true cause is our own iniquity (the desire to do things our own way) and our apparently increasing unwillingness individually and nationally to adhere to a standard of right and wrong. The relative ease and abundance of our lives in America has detracted from the Church’s perception of what is right and important and allowed us to be manipulated by worldly distractions and factional finger-pointing within and without.

Is it any wonder that for the country as a whole there appears to be no check on our desires? We do things simply because we can with no effective way to say “no.” While we haven’t completely lost our moral compass, we have dropped it, stepped on it, banged it against a couple of trees and decided that really all directions are equally good anyway, and what’s so special about North? How else, for example, can we in all our sophistication say that there may actually be “good” reasons to consider creating babies solely for the purpose of harvesting their cells for other people to use? We are the “children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction”. We have said to seers, “’See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel’!” [Isaiah 30:9-11]. As a result, our culture excels in excess, saying, in effect, “The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’” [Zechariah 1:12]

As it turns out, America’s willingness to pray and call on God wasn’t very far below the surface, even if it took a mind-boggling catastrophe to bring it about. I can’t help wondering, however, just how deep this new surface goes, and what lies beneath it. In all the outcry for God to bless America, some lines from Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” album kept coming to my mind: “Have you ever wondered just what God requires? Do you think He’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?”

In our rush to call on God for balm, will we reject any suggestion of blame? Will our prayers be little more than expressions of our hopes and fears without repentance or requests for guidance (and the commitment to act on this guidance even if it isn’t what we want to do)? I ask these questions of my country because I have had to ask them of myself, and I know the answers I’m giving could be more emphatic.

God made it as easy as possible for us. He gave us just 10 commandments, and then He gave us a Savior to restore us to fellowship with Him when we’ve inevitably broken these. Unless we effectively govern ourselves we cannot expect to set a proper standard for our families, and then our families cannot properly build the Church, and then the Church cannot serve as the example for the world. Each successive step is a magnifying lens in terms of the personal impact we have, and any breakdown at the first stage is increased through each successive layer.

Setting aside doctrine and political dogma, if we as individuals, as the Church and ultimately as a nation, were living out the principles of the 10 commandments the “symptoms” described earlier would have had no cause.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (KJV)

                                                                        – 2 Chronicles 7:14

Other 9-11 posts:

Fight and Flight (review of the Flight 93 movie).

Unknown Concentrations of Risk

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