The Long Shadow of 9/11

Sep 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Last weekend the United States, and indeed the world, remembered the horrors of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.  It has been ten years!  Ten years ago, America was united but that unity has evaporated.  Ten years ago, the attack fostered a sense of mission, renewing the US in its spirit and its self-understanding.  Today, to some extent confusion and a sense of despair reign.  Certainly, a sense of fear lingers over the nation:  A sense that we are still vulnerable, still open to attack.  A short review of American history gives focus to the many wars that our nation has fought.  Most of the years encompassing the American Revolution (1776-1781) were not good years.  The Continental Army lost many strategic battles and at times there was no certainty that America would be successful in its goal of independence from Great Britain.  The War of 1812 was in effect a second war for independence from Britain.  During that war Britain invaded the US, burned its capital in Washington and seemed on the edge of victory.  But Andrew Jackson and others decimated the British army and a status quo was reached.  The American Civil War was arguably the bloodiest of all America?s conflicts.  Over 620,000 men were killed, the most deadly war in our history, even exceeding the losses of World War II.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 was a brutal attack on our Pacific fleet.  With all of these attacks and wars, the news of these horrible events took days, if not weeks, to reach the nation?s citizens.  But the terrorist attack of 9/11 at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash near Shanksville, PA were on the national news instantly.  The second plane crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Center was seen by millions on national TV.  All of the horror of that day is burned into our national psyche.  We will never forget that day of terror!!  Ten years later, politically, financially and socially, America seems to have lost its way.  That sense of fear, of anxiety, is real and at times almost overwhelming.  It is this long shadow of fear that I seek to address in this Perspective.

To do so, I want to turn to Psalm 46.  The anonymous psalmist writes his psalm, we believe, at the time of Sennacherib, the emperor of the Assyrian empire, during his 701 BC attempt to lay siege to Jerusalem during Hezekiah?s reign.  Assyria had conquered the northern ten tribes in 722 BC and its new ruler was now seeking dominance over Judah.  In Psalm 46:1-3, the psalmist counsels Jerusalem that God is their refuge and strength, an ever present help in this time of trouble.  It is God who is their security, their protection and His presence and power were real.  Therefore, ?we will not fear,? he declares.  He is counseling Judah to focus on God, not Sennacherib.  He is the one they should fear, not Assyria.  Further, to drive home his point, he uses hyperbolic language framed around four ?though? statements:  though the earth should give way, though the mountains slide into the sea, though that sea roars and foams with fury and though the mountains quake?we will not fear.  In effect, he is affirming the unalterable faith and trust of Judah in Almighty God.

In Psalm 46:44-7, the Psalmist builds on the empowering presence of God, and compares His presence to a river that nurtures and protects Jerusalem.  God?s presence and His protection of the ?city of God? mean that Jerusalem will ?not be moved, will not fall.?  That strong sense of stability and security is compared to the mountains falling into the sea (v. 2), the quaking mountains of v. 3 and the nations tottering in v. 6.  As God speaks (v. 6), the nations totter and crumble.  Why would Jerusalem fear with a God like that, he admonishes.  Further, God?s names indicate why He is their source of strength and security:  ?The Lord of Hosts? is a military title meaning that He commands the hosts of the armies of heaven and at His command they will do anything for Him.  Additionally, he is the ?God of Jacob,? the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who made unconditional and eternal promises to these patriarchs.  He will never renege on those promises.

Finally, in Psalm 46: 8-11, the psalmist beckons Judah to consider ?the works of YHWH.?  This has echoes of Isaiah 40:21-24, where YHWH sits on His throne high above the earth and from that vantage point earth?s humans resemble grasshoppers.  Isaiah affirms that God is the creator who created everything?the vast universe filled with stars that He has named (see v. 26) and the earth which is like dust (v. 12).  He is also the Sovereign God who rules over His world, including the political rulers of earth?s kingdoms.  He has the power ?to reduce these rulers to nothing.?  They are like plants that He plants and then He blows on them; they then wither and die and join the dustbin of history (see vv. 24-25).  He is the absolute Sovereign of His realm and nothing and no one compares with Him.  [One can certainly reflect on the formation of the USSR, the first militantly atheistic regime in human history, a regime of utter brutality and totalitarian power.  Indeed, the brutality of Lenin and especially Stalin exceeded that of Adolf Hitler.  The arrogance of that regime reached its peak in the 1960s when Nikita Khrushchev declared that they would launch their cosmonauts into space, find God and topple Him from His throne.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, God ?blew on? the USSR and it collapsed.  Who toppled whom?]  Returning to Psalm 46, and thinking of the future kingdom of God manifested in the coming millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ,  the psalmist sees a time when wars will cease, military armaments will be destroyed and the entire earth will confess Him as the exalted Sovereign (see vv. 8-10).  In v. 11, the psalmist repeats the refrain of God as Lord of Hosts and the covenant-making God of Israel.  In short, YHWH is a mighty fortress protecting and guarding His people.

Two additional thoughts:

  1. What happened to Sennacherib?  The Bible says that he and his armies were defeated by Almighty God supernaturally (see 2 Kings19:32-37) in which he lost 185,000 of his men.  He returned to Nineveh and was assassinated in 681 BC.
  2. The power and faith of Psalm 46 greatly influenced Martin Luther, who in the midst of his struggles with both Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and the leaders of Roman Catholicism used this psalm as the basis for his great hymn, ?A Mighty Fortress is Our God.?

The long shadow of 9/11 is certainly a shadow of fear and anxiety.  May God enable us, however, to focus on Him, not al Qaeda or the powers of this world that genuinely threaten our security.  We must be vigilant as a nation and be prepared for any attack.  But, as with the psalmist of Psalm 46, God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble.  May the tenth anniversary of 9/11 be a time of spiritual renewal and revival for America, for it is only God who is the antidote to our fears and anxieties. PRINT PDF

Comments Closed