Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 and Biblical Prophecy

Fifteen years ago today I woke up in Aurora, Oregon to the phone ringing. Oma was down for a brief visit on her way to California. Eliana was less than 6 months old.

It was Dad. "Turn on the TV," he said. "A plane just hit a building."

I was puzzled. Planes crash several times a year, but this was the first time Dad had called us to turn on the news. I was thinking, "That's sad, but is it sad enough to wake me up early?"

Then, gathered around the TV, we saw that it wasn't just any building. To see the New York skyline like that, with billows of smoke pouring out, we began to wonder. "Could this have been an accident?" It seemed that to hit the World Trade Center one would have to be . . . trying. We shuddered at the thought.

The minutes ticked by and we watched live footage of the panic, as everyone but first responders raced away from the scene.

Image result for 9/11 pictures
9/11 Photo: http://metro.co.uk/2015/11/21/man-shot-in-paris-attacks-
had-also-survived-911-5517199/
Then, the unthinkable. We watched on live television as the second plane hit the second tower. We gasped. A sickening feeling gripped us. Horror hung in the air like the smoke now billowing from both towers. It was obvious now:

This was deliberate.
This was coordinated.
Whoever it was was attacking America.
Where would they strike next?

The answer came as the morning unfolded. Long minutes stretched by as we sat, our eyes glued to the screen.

Within 30 minutes, a plane crashes into the side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Danny's mom is there in D.C. for work. We call her. She's close enough to see the smoke from her hotel window.

Another 20 minutes pass. Suddenly, the already unthinkable tragedy grows sickeningly worse: the South Tower of the World Trade Center is swallowed up by the ground before our very eyes. We watch live as it simply vanishes, leaving great billows of grey smoke.

Less than 10 minutes later Flight 93 crashes into a Pennsylvania field, killing everyone on board. While the story takes time to decipher, it is clear that this plane was headed to the White House.

Twenty minutes later the North Tower collapses into itself, leaving an aching emptiness in the New York skyline and in the hearts of every American.

"The worst day" was a barrage on our senses. It stretched credulity. We were living an apocalyptic nightmare. Oma was supposed to leave that morning to drive herself to southern California. I remember our fear -- where will they strike next? We urged her to stay another day, to wait things out and see whether it was safe. She opted to go. At 81, she had lived through WW2 and felt it was no good to sit around, anxiously waiting. She had a life to live. And so she went.

9/11 shaped us as a nation. Far from defeat, we rallied as a country and experienced unity and a singleness of purpose like never before in my lifetime. Prayer services were packed. All of us cried out to God with our grief, our questions, our hopes. Our national resolve was strong to prevent future terror attacks and eliminate their sources.

This reminds me of the Old Testament prophets.

Many people find it hard to connect with the biblical prophets because of the great gaps that separate us -- geographically, chronologically, and culturally. We're a long way from ancient Israel and Judah. We understand little about the historical and political challenges they faced. Our respective cultures are vastly different.

However, we have something in common that can help us bridge that gap. We have 9/11.

The Old Testament prophets were God's spokesmen to their own generation. They pointed out the failure of the covenant people of Israel and Judah to walk faithfully with their God, Yahweh. They announced the judgement that God had planned. And they spoke of the restoration, God's vision for a future in which divine blessings would again flow through the land.

How does this relate to 9/11? The devastation felt by the people of the northern kingdom of Israel in the exile of 722 BC and the southern kingdom of Judah in the exile of 586 BC mirrors the devastation of Ground Zero, only worse. For the people of Israel and Judah, Palestine was not only home, but it was the only home possible. God had promised it to them. It was the physical proof of their covenant relationship. When the Assyrians bore down on the Northern Kingdom and dragged the Israelites into exile, those ten tribes dissolved into the sands of history. Like the South Tower, at least 500 years of national history was swallowed alive. When the Babylonians gained the upper hand and attacked Judah in 586 BC, they decimated the temple in which God had promised to be present and the city in which God had appointed David and his descendants to rule. Exile brought an abrupt end to proper worship, legitimate kingship, and to the nationhood of God's people.

Where was God anyway? 
How could God have allowed these things to happen to his own people?
Have God's promises been annihilated? 
Has the covenant come to an end? 
What does it look like to be God's faithful followers when everything we know has changed?
How can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land? (Ps 137)

If we can remember how we felt on 9/11, how we were shaken as a nation and how we grieved and feared and raged and sat stunned, then we're in a position to identify with the ancient people of Israel and Judah. The prophets addressed them shortly before, during, and after the exile, when they were wrestling deeply with the meaning of the events that played out around them.

God's word to them continues to speak powerfully today — to any of us who identify ourselves as disciples of Jesus, and who are therefore members of the (re)new(ed) covenant. The prophets reveal to us the devastating consequences of unfaithfulness and God's glorious vision for restoration.

My children do not remember 9/11. Our oldest was just a baby, and the others were just a gleam in my eye. This morning we watched a video together so that they could see what I saw on that fateful morning, and so that we could wrestle together with the way it shaped our nation. My children may not have experienced 9/11, but they cannot afford to ignore it. It's part of who we are.

The same is true with all of us who claim allegiance to Jesus. We can't afford to neglect the message of the prophets, because they address the people of God at one of the most devastating and pivotal times in our history. Their story is our story. We must listen and learn.

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