This is the 10th anniversary of what some have said is a seminal event in our national history. I would argue it was less a seminal event, and more an awakening as to the danger posed to the West since the 17th century when the armies of Kara Mustafa – capitalizing on the previous century’s work of warlord Suleiman the Magnificent – attacked Christian armies across eastern Europe.
Suleiman’s and Mustafa’s wars were Jihads against the West. And though stopped at the Gates of Vienna in 1683, that Jihad has never ceased.
But the enemy has been unable to effectively prosecute the war against us; that is until the 20th century – particularly in the 1970s and 1980s – when we began to see the rise of Jihadist terrorist attacks against Christians and Jews throughout the world.
And then – though we were warned for decades, and were even attacked in 1993 in New York – the single worst series of terrorist attacks to date struck us in New York, Northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and frankly in the skies over a much wider range before the four planes actually crashed.
But we’ll leave the discussion of Jihadist history – and the “why” – to the sociologists and political scientists, whose views are framed a bit more ideologically than mine.
I’m a military analyst, and so I see things perhaps less in terms of ideology and politics, and more in terms of tactical or strategic application. Though I am not as black-and-white in my thinking as other military analysts, because my focus is special operations, and that requires a bit of right–and–left brained thinking, as does simply being a professional writer.
But what I want to talk about – and share with you – today is what I witnessed and experienced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, because I was there at “Ground Zero.” Not when Al Qaeda struck us. But within 48 hours after the attacks.
I was there at the Red Cross recovery station where volunteers were taking DNA swabs from family members who were frantically searching for their missing loved ones.
I was there as the trade center was burning, I watched as shopkeepers near “Ground Zero” stared at their damaged storefronts and the thick powdery gray ash and tiny strips of paper that covered everything several blocks away from the attacks.
I watched as warplanes from the offshore carrier USS George Washington roared overhead, making wide sweeps over the city during their constant patrols, because – remember, at that time – we were anticipating equally devastating follow-up attacks.
And I was physically at “Ground Zero,” standing between what was left of the two towers and the destroyed buildings adjacent to the towers.
In the weeks to follow, when I was asked by television and newspaper reporters to describe what I saw, the one thing I could not get past was the fact that on TV, in the newspapers, and – today on the Internet (Remember, in 2001, the Internet was nothing like as mainstream as it is today) – the one-dimensional images we all saw (and continue to see), did not (and do not) begin to illustrate how horrible it really was. It really was impossible to adequately describe. And I won’t attempt to describe it here either.
By 2001, I already had experienced battlefields as a journalist overseas, and I was destined to witness terrible battlefields during the Iraq War. But never had I stood on such a terrible field as that which I stood on in lower Manhattan in the middle of Sept 2001.
The other thing – and perhaps the most important – was (and is) the question I’ve since been asked; “Where was God on 9/11”?
Fortunately for me, I’ve had a special (and I think somewhat unique) relationship with God since I was a little boy. So the question was something that was easy for me.
It didn’t disturb me at all.
It didn’t shake my faith in the least.
In fact, it enabled me to share God’s love with others and be open – in a non-intrusive way – about what I knew (and know) to be several eternal truths about God.
The answer; God was there on 9/11. And His glory was manifested in myriad ways that stood in stark contrast to the earthly hell of lower Manhattan on that day, and in the days and weeks after the attacks. And I’ll get to that in a moment.
FIRST, we have to understand something about good and evil.
God’s love and infinite power doesn’t mean that there is no darkness in the world.
Darkness is simply the absence of light.
Evil (which we equate with darkness) is the absence of good (which we equate with light).
In fact, in a somewhat scientific sense – where fact is derived not from theory but is based on empirical data – we see it would be impossible to measure goodness in terms of something being good, better, and best, unless we could also reverse the measurement and get to the point where good is less-and-less good. And then we would get to a point where something is simply void of goodness.
If we go along a measuring stick beyond that, we move toward something we would have to eventually say is evil.
So you might say, well, why doesn’t God make everything good? But if that was the case, and there was no benchmark or standard by which we could recognize goodness, then it would be impossible to achieve better and best.
Goodness would be utterly unrecognizable. So there would be no “goodness” by definition. There would be no love (true, there would be no hate). But there would also be no light (and there would be no darkness). There would be no free will to choose between what we know to be good and evil. We would all be robots.
But God didn’t make us just to be wind-up toys. He made us in His own image.
We are able to reason and choose, and, yes, recognize goodness and the infinite levels of that which is good.
And I believe, God wants us to choose to be good because “goodness” is what He is, and when we choose goodness we draw closer to the infinite power and greatness of God.
SECOND, we have to understand something about the nature of God before we are able to recognize His presence.
There are certain qualities or characteristics about human beings that we too-often take for granted as being conditioned into our personalities – virtues like courage, commitment, sacrifice, selflessness, love, compassion, mercy, honesty and loyalty – when they have in fact been imbedded into our DNA by God who created us in His own image.
This doesn’t mean that we are always courageous and merciful in our actions. But we do know that these virtues I speak of – conditioned or not – are prized in every culture anywhere in the world at any time in history. And we – as human beings – seem to demonstrate them most in times of crisis. These are the manifestations of God.
Doesn’t mean evil – to include cowardice, cruelty, laziness, disloyalty, and selfishness (to include egocentrism) – isn’t also on the prowl. It is. But those things are not the manifestations of God. They are human degradations reflecting the rejection or absence of God.
We might think it is easier to be bad. And when there is no crisis, the cowardly and selfish devil will try to convince us that we don’t need God. The devil wants us to believe that the world revolves around us. That WE are the most important. That WE should take all we can. That it’s better to serve ourselves than to serve others.
But when a terrible event strikes, ever notice how most of us reject our own personal comforts and want to serve others? Take care of others? Protect others? In a crisis, it seems to be much easier to embrace God (and those qualities wired-into-us because we are created in the image of God) than it is to do otherwise.
Ever wonder why in the heat of battle, most men advance forward instead of running away? Why they take care of their buddies? Why they give their last sip of water to their fellow soldiers? Yes, training and conditioning to be sure. But also because God’s virtues of courage, sacrifice, and selflessness (which are hard-wired into us) come far more naturally to us than cowardice and selfishness. It’s also why when we act against our nature, we feel a sense of guilt.
The devil doesn’t want us to understand this. That’s why he is known as “the father of lies.”
We know right from wrong. And we sometimes go to great pains to convince ourselves that a wrong action or bad behavior is not really wrong or bad. We try to justify our wrongs. But isn’t it interesting that we never have to convince ourselves about what is right?
Righteousness is an easy thing to come to grips with, even though doing right may not always seem to be the easy thing to do.
On 9/11, firefighters, policemen, and soldiers did what came natural to them. They raced into burning buildings to save others. Were they afraid? Of course, but that’s where courage, instinct, and conditioning kicked in.
The courage and instinct came naturally. And the conditioning enhanced what was natural.
But it wasn’t just firefighters, policemen, and soldiers. It was ordinary people who were trying to save others.
And for days afterwards, New Yorkers – famous for their brashness because they live in the world’s toughest, most competitive city – were as warm, friendly, giving, and self-sacrificial as any people I had ever encountered.
I could give you examples for days on this –
from people opening up their homes to others
to restaurants offering free meals
to everyone sharing cabs
and comforting one another’s children on the streets.
In that hell of Sept. 11, 2001, it was far easier to embrace God – far more of a natural thing to do – because we are created in His image.
Christ Himself said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As a boy I used to wonder, “How is His yoke easy, and how is His burden light”?
But I now know that – though there are forces in this world that want us to resist His yoke and His burden – those are the things that come most naturally to us. And that nature – in times of crisis – loses its inhibition, and we become that which God intended for us to be.
And so when people ask me, “Where was God on 9/11?” my answer always is, “God was everywhere I turned, everywhere I looked. His eyes, His voice, His arms, His sheer presence was inescapable.”
Evil struck us hard on 9/11. But God profoundly carried the day.