The only time I ever almost–punched someone at church was the morning of September 11, 2001. Soon after watching the second plane…
The only time I ever almost–punched someone at church was the morning of September 11, 2001. Soon after watching the second plane collide into the Tower, a comment was made by another ministry leader that nearly threw us into fisticuffs.
9-11 is a this-generation defining moment. Everyone can place where they were by the timing of the Twin Towers falling. That tragic day seven years ago has, in so many ways, defined us.
For me, the day began by feeding our then two-year-old some Cheerios while watching the morning news. Curiously, there was an accident, possibly a plane, most likely an accident. They promised more news as information came in. Between the first and second planes I drove to church. The T.V. was on and people were gathered together in one of our main rooms. Our staff was there, along with some community people. Watching. Wondering. The second plane hit. It was jaw-dropping. Then came the news, the speculation, the confirmation—we were under attack.
Then, a few moments later, someone behind me said, “Finally, God’s getting America’s attention!” I couldn’t believe it, surely I misunderstood. I turned around and that’s when the man behind me explained that he believed this event was God dolling out judgment on America for its immorality and that this tragedy would serve to get our attention. I was angry. My fist started to clench. I almost–almost, punched him. I’m not sure what would have happened if I did. I can’t remember ever hitting anyone, bareknuckle, in the face. It is very likely that I would have missed, hit him in the arm, or gotten the beat-down myself. So, instead, I just gave him a disgusted look and left. It was unimaginable to me that someone would think that way, that they would hold a view like that and express it, in the midst of the suffering and tragedy like 9-11.
To be fair, the person later apologized. But I didn’t buy it. That sounds wrong coming from a pastor, someone who should give others the benefit of the doubt but—I’m not perfect either. I still wrestle with that comment. Not with the person who made it, but with the philosophy behind it.
The next year, I spoke at an event on the first anniversary of 9-11 and I shared a passage in Luke 13. In it, Jesus speaks directly to a group of people about the issue of judgment. He answers an unspoken belief that the people held about how God works in the world. In their thinking, if something tragic happened to you, it must be because you were wicked, you deserved it. Bottom line. End of discussion. Jesus answers their unspoken belief by talking about a tower that fell in Siloam and killed eighteen people. He says, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” At the end of the chapter Luke gives a portrait of Jesus–sorrowful, compassionate-longing to gather those in Jerusalem.
After seven years, here are some lessons I’ve learned from 9-11.
The Bible is full of judgments, but it always cautions us not to be judgmental. Some leaders get this confused and feel that they are partnering with God by being judgmental—that their anger towards sinners is a part of God’s wrath. This happened in Jesus day, it happens today. Jesus warns us again and again not to judge others, that’s God’s job. As leaders we are called to be humble and to invite people to a life of repentance. We are not called to make judgments about how God works in the world when it comes to events beyond us. I think this is what Jesus was trying to communicate to the people about the tower–don’t be mislead, you’re all sinners, how can you figure out God’s ways, instead, come to God while you can.
As leaders, our worldview, our approach to the world and what God is doing in it, is crucial. If we believe that God is out to get those sinners and not to call others to Himself, we will miss the heart of Christ. A heart that often looked over the city with compassion. A heart that is patient, waiting for more and more people to turn to Him.
It’s OK to say that we don’t understand why certain things happen in the world. As ministry leaders we are not called to hold all the answers, or even to piece together the events of our days, but we are called to be compassionate and to enter into the suffering of others in a real and authentic way.
The heroic efforts during 9-11 are a solid example that action and compassion always trump armchair philosophies.
What lessons have you learned from 9-11?
Where were you when it happened?