While memories of September 11 elicit a flood of emotions, the lessons of that historic day should never be forgotten.
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We all watched. First, the north tower of the World Trade Center, just after the initial jet ripped into it—a gash spewing black smoke and sending flaming debris spiraling to the street below.
When another plane struck the south tower, the horror deepened. We knew we were under attack.
On that day, a group crowding under the Jumbotron in Times Square exhibited a wide range of emotional responses: New Yorkers trading every bit of news, trying to allay confusion. A woman with her hand to her face in disbelief, tears streaming down her cheeks. A man with his arms folded trying to process what he had just learned. A woman making the sign of the cross and crying out to God. Many just watched in stunned silence.
Then, another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Across the nation, we watched, crowding radios and television sets. Confusion turned to panic: How could this happen? Then to anger: Who would dare do this to America?
As the buildings crumbled into a heap in lower Manhattan and sent a towering plume of ash and pulverized concrete over the island, all most of us could do was keep watching.
What we witnessed that day was immediately seared into our collective consciousness: office workers tumbling hundreds of feet after jumping from a jet-fuel inferno. An endless whirlwind of papers streaming across a cloudless blue sky. Three firemen somberly raising a flag at Ground Zero with ghastly rubble piled in the background. All air traffic grounded in a matter of hours.
We watched helplessly as symbols of economic and military power burned. Even the United States president, the most powerful man in the world, later stated he felt “powerless” as he watched men and women leaping from burning buildings.
Video footage soon after the towers fell revealed what seemed an alien world. The sun blotted out. Everything covered in dust. An eerie desolate silence.
Indeed, we had entered a strange new world, ushered in by 19 men who hijacked four planes. The event changed everything: how we travel, how wars are fought—how we live.
Though many years have passed, images of September 11, 2001, still stop us cold. No matter the number of times we watch appalling footage of one of the airplanes striking the World Trade Center, our stomachs still churn.
The events of 9/11 caused America to promise, “We will never forget.” This meant to never forget the 3,000 victims of mass murder. To never forget the heroic actions of emergency personnel and average citizens. To never forget how that day felt, to ensure a similar event would never happen again.
President George W. Bush set the tone for “remembering” on the evening of September 11 in a speech from the Oval Office: “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.
“None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
And in the wake of a collective tragedy, Americans did unite.
As workers and inhabitants made their way back to Manhattan after September 11, the smell of rubble and melted plastic mingled with the stench of decaying bodies. The horror of that day lingered, but something else did as well. New Yorkers felt increased camaraderie after surviving the disaster, often asking each other, “Where were you on 9/11?” Strangers would recount their stories to one another.
Hints of a feeling of togetherness began on September 11 itself. In Washington Square Park, a few began holding hands, with passersby quietly joining. People from varied backgrounds soon added to the number, and the circle quickly grew. It was consoling to know they were not alone.
A similar feeling of solidarity swept the country, starting with candlelight vigils and memorial services in states across the union. It was seen in a sea of waving American flags, then in pins, T-shirts and bumper stickers.
The entire nation shared a unified sense of purpose. They backed the president almost unanimously. A Gallup poll showed 90 percent approved of his performance on September 21-22, including 89 percent of Democrats.
In the face of losing the freedoms and prosperity they had long enjoyed, Americans better appreciated them, and were prepared to work hard to ensure their continued existence. Those in New York City volunteered for clean up at Ground Zero. Elsewhere, individuals began volunteering, both for 9/11-related charities and local causes. Thousands returned to the churches of their childhood, trying to make sense of what happened. By some estimates, nearly half of adults attended a religious service the Sunday following 9/11. Charitable donations went up as well, with Americans giving about $2.8 billion to help those affected by the terror attacks.
Historically, tragedy and hardship have a great effect on Americans. It is then that they come together as one, ready to tackle any challenge that comes their way. In the wake of September 11, this seemed the greatest lesson. People felt, “We are strong,” and, “We will make it through.”
Without concerted effort, however, as a horrific event fades in the rearview mirror, so can any lessons learned from it.
Some of the changes after September 11 lasted only a few months. By November, church attendance went back to normal. Other changes lasted a few years. Volunteer numbers continued to increase until 2006, and have been waning since.
Patriotism reached its high point in 2003, when a Gallup poll revealed that 70 percent of those polled were “extremely proud to be an American.” Since then, the number has declined. A similar 2015 Gallup poll found that 54 percent are “extremely proud” to be Americans, which is just under pre-9/11 levels when 55 percent answered “extremely” in a January 2001 Gallup poll.
While some scars of that day remain, the lives of most have largely returned to where they were before September 11.
Yet look at problems besetting the nation today: over $19 trillion in federal debt, more than $17 trillion in personal debts, rampant unemployment, bickering politicians, bloated government budgets, widespread felonies. The list could go on.
Taken together, these problems cry out for America to again unite, to look back on 9/11 and the country’s history, then seek out and truly apply lessons gleaned.
Most would say that it is this same resilience that has greatly contributed to America’s historical success—that for two centuries it has caused the U.S. to hold the greatest army, be the world leader in agriculture, manufacturing, production, technology and trade, and hold crucial strategic sea gates and defensive strongholds around the world. Throughout that time, the nation repeatedly overcame challenges—the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the Great Depression—and almost always emerged even stronger.
Yet America’s patriotism is a double-edged sword. While it contributes to showings of national kindness and heroism, it blinds the nation from what it should truly remember from 9/11.
After the terror attacks, people turned to each other for comfort. They turned to the president to make sweeping changes to the nation’s foreign policy. They turned to religion to make sense of it all.
Church attendance surged as people mourned a national loss. Many Americans sought momentary comfort in inspirational Bible passages they were taught from their youth, but such verses failed to provide real meaning and understanding of the tragedy.
In such instances, most simply turn to the Bible because that was how they were raised, or because the nation was founded on certain Judeo-Christian principles. Yet the United States and its people have a deeper connection to the Bible than most realize.
Follow carefully. Amos 9:9 states: “For, lo, I [God] will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.”
Realize that ancient Israel had 12 tribes. The modern-day nation called Israel is mostly comprised of the tribe of Judah. The other Israelite tribes were lost to history. In Amos 9, God promised protection for these tribes as they “sifted,” or moved, through the nations. While that was happening, these peoples forgot their heritage.
A special promise was given to the patriarch Abraham and was later passed on to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh as a birthright blessing. God promised both would “grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen. 48:16).
The older brother, Manasseh, was to “become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations” (vs. 19). Only one pair of brother nations has ever become a singular great nation and a multitude of nations—the United States (Manasseh) and Britain and its former colonies (Ephraim).
Centuries of prosperity and decades of being a lone superpower have blinded Americans to the Source of their blessings. They have believed their government system, their hard work and ingenuity, their resilience have led to widespread prosperity. But this belief is mistaken. The reason for America’s astounding blessings are promises made to patriarchs of ancient Israel for their obedience to God.
Americans still desire to retain the blessings—the high standard of living, the abundance of food, the unmatched economic might—they have so long enjoyed. God’s blessings, however, require the same action today as in the time of biblical patriarchs: obedience.
This has been God’s desire for Israel—and the modern nations that descended from it—since day one. Notice: “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jer. 7:22-23, Revised Standard Version).
Simply put, God states, “Obey, and you will be blessed.”
The next verse continues, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward” (vs. 24).
God has been working with the peoples of Israel for thousands of years. He knows their tendency to forget that He is the source of their blessings, and to flag in obedience.
Thus, God stated, “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all My servants the prophets to them, day after day” (vs. 25, Revised Standard Version).
Despite these constant reminders, “They hearkened not unto Me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers” (Jer. 7:26).
The example of ancient Israel is a lesson for their modern-day descendants.
The United States is not doomed to continue to suffer decline and defeat. The path to restore national prominence is outlined in the Bible—yet it will require national unity as never before.
In Leviticus 26, God explains that disobedience has brought the consequences seen today, notably terrorism. Notice what He says: “But if you will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments; and if you shall despise My statutes…I [God] also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror…” (vs. 14-16).
Constant lawlessness has God furious. He sees a people awash in covetousness and greed. He sees a self-absorbed society, in which individuals lie, steal and cheat with impunity. He sees a nation steeped in the miserable condition of sin.
And He will soon render swift punishment: “Now will I shortly pour out My fury upon you, and accomplish My anger upon you: and I will judge you according to your ways, and will recompense you for all your abominations” (Ezek. 7:8).
Before God punishes, He always provides a warning about what will come if there is no change. As with any loving parent who disciplines a child, He leaves no excuse for anyone to continue in ruinous behavior.
In his book, America and Britain in Prophecy, David C. Pack explains how the average person will react to this warning: “Most people will not seek God unless forced to—unless severe trials or other circumstances drive them to God. During good times, most are happy to trust in their own strength, crediting themselves for their successes and achievements, when they may have had little to do with blessings that came to them. On the other hand, these same people generally blame God when things go wrong in their life.
“But understand this. God does not and has never owed blessings to anyone. He may choose to bless individuals or nations, for His own purposes, but no one automatically deserves prosperity, wealth, abundance and a generous portion of God’s bounty.
“So it is with the peoples of America and Britain. God has bestowed to them astonishing, unparalleled blessings beyond what any nation has ever enjoyed. He has kept His promise to Abraham to make many nations from him and to give the sons of Joseph the promised awesome birthright blessings after two and one-half millennia.
“But our peoples have neither been grateful for these birthright blessings, nor sought God, repenting of our national sins!”
The September 11 memorial that now stands where the towers once did is designed to help visitors never forget that historic day. Entering the site, they must follow a path that leads to a museum pavilion dedicated to the unforgettable day, with the nation’s tallest building towering in front of them.
In addition, waterfalls drop into two square pools set into the footprints of where the twin towers once stood. The pools are ringed with bronze plates carrying the names of attack victims. Trees line the entire memorial.
With each anniversary of September 11, we call to mind the events of that day. We remember the horror we felt as the towers crashed, the sadness of mourning loved ones, and the renewed appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy.
But just remembering the event is not enough. America must learn lessons. It will take a period of hardship to alert the United States to what is blocking God from blessing it.
September 11 was the front edge of a time of trouble soon to overtake America. This coming period of continuous calamity will be one that future generations will truly never forget.
Those who learn the lessons from what is occurring now, and from that historic and tragic September day, can escape—if they remember God is the only source of blessings and learn to obey Him by living His Way now.
For a fuller picture of what is foretold to occur, read America and Britain in Prophecy.