September 11, 2001, taught us that sin is alive and well on Planet Earth. Last year's attack on civilians was sin at its most vile. When two planes hit the World Trade Towers, we flew into a black hole of human making. Designed as an attack on American "symbols" of commerce and power, it really was an attack on human sanctity. Terrorists saw a building's collapsed steel frame as more significant than the lives of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. Passengers and employees became pawns in journeys of hatred.
Sin is dark because it is blind. Seeing its own selfish objectives so clearly, souls become ghosts not worthy of care or preservation. Sin is dark because unchecked it births horrific acts like 9/11/01. As such, the attack of September 11 was not primarily an attack on the United States, it was part of an ongoing homicide on humanity. We have been in this war a long time, but are slow to admit it. This attack was rooted deep in something within all of us that needs to be checked. One place where freedom fails is where sin reigns freely in the human heart directed against others.
Our reaction is that we must stop such vile sin. But to stop sin, one must change the selfish heart, both in the individual and in society. One must quench the unregulated, lawless quest for power and control that spurred such an act. One must quell the hatred that sacrifices people for political statements. One must calm the anger that causes me to turn my neighbor into an enemy, to turn one made in the image of God into an object of hate. One must embrace the standards of human sanctity that God created as a part of us all, a potential that is there until sin's hatred and blindness extract it.
Those who undertook this mission were taught since childhood to hate. So hate they did. That is the world we live in. Last year we shuttered as the freedom of unchecked hatred exploded and imploded in dark, living color.
An event like this gives pause. It exposes our ultimate lack of control. No amount of machismo can overcome our inherent frailty and mortality. We must take care that an act of vile machismo is not replicated in an act of vengeance-seeking machismo, where violence begets more violence, a dangerous and escalating spiral. Nor should we forget—and pretend we can return to life as it was—that would be to deny the crime, and more importantly, the value of precious lives lost.
As tragic as 9/11 was, events like this also show what people can be—if we only turn another way, with a fresh dependence on God and an appreciation of how God created us and how God has sought to redeem us, taking on sin himself through the suffering of his son and the forgiveness and enablement he offers.
The spiritual war against terrorism is the war against the sinful heart and its allegiances. God must fix it his way. Hatred's destructiveness is overcome by the way of loving one's neighbor. My faith calls on me to love God completely and love my neighbor as myself. Jesus made the same call and was the example. In 9/11's aftermath, New Yorkers gave us a small glimpse of this other way, much like the Samaritan did to the wounded man on the road. They gave of themselves and risked their lives to help their neighbor. In that rubble, what mattered was not one's ethnicity or political agenda. Human suffering and need met caring outstretched hands.
Around the country, people gave blood to help pump life back into our bleeding, global soul. Once the monument of steel crumbled, the steel of human hearts touched by pain and properly invoking the divine image in each of us served with another kind of heart, one that saw and cared. Our world needs more of this. It is our best monument to the fallen Twin Towers.
We cannot guarantee that we can always quell terrorism. Unchecked hatred finds ways to impose itself on our world. However, if we fight the spiritual battle of the human heart by seeking God, His way, and loving his creatures, light may emerge from Ground Zero. Maybe the legacy of 9/11/01 will be that something else other than sin is alive and well on Planet Earth. Maybe we will find that faith, hope, and love can overcome even the most vile of acts of hatred.
Darrell L. Bock is research professor of New Testament Studies and professor of spiritual development and culture at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Two days after the attacks, Christianity Today posted another article by Bock, "When Sin Reigns | An event like this shows us what humans are capable of becoming—both as children of darkness and of light."
Other articles posted this week in commemoration of September 11 include:
Beyond Broken Beams | A chaplain at Ground Zero talks about his role in "a bigger story being told by a creator who deals in restoration." (September 12, 2002)
Deliverance on the 81st Floor | On 9/11, Stanley Praimnath and Sujo John called out to God from inside the World Trade Center. (September 11, 2002)
Transcending Security | The rightful fear of anthrax is not the beginning of wisdom. (September 11, 2002)
Speaking Out: Ten Things We Should Have Learned Since September 11, 2001 | We can't turn a blind eye to Islam, evangelism, heroism, and our Christian calling. (September 10, 2002)
Afghanistan Before September 11 | A Christian relief worker talks about the terror inside the war-ravaged country and his prayers for change. (September 10, 2002)
Christianity Today essays after September 11 included:
Wake-up Call | If September 11 was a divine warning, it's God's people who are being warned. (Nov. 5, 2001)
Judgment Day | God promised that calamity would follow disobedience. So why are we quick to dismiss it as a reason for the September 11 attacks? (Sept. 25, 2001)
Now What? | A Christian response to religious terrorism. (Sept. 21, 2001)
To Embrace the Enemy | Is reconciliation possible in the wake of such evil? (Sept. 21, 2001)
After the Grave in the Air | True reconciliation comes not by ignoring justice nor by putting justice first, but by unconditional embrace. (Sept. 21, 2001)
Books & Culture Corner: The Imagination of Disaster | "We thought we were invulnerable." Really? (Sept. 17, 2001)
Taking It Personally | What do we do with all this anger? (Sept. 14, 2001)
When Sin Reigns | An event like this shows us what humans are capable of becoming—both as children of darkness and of light. (Sept. 13, 2001)
Christianity Today dispatches from New York City included:
Blood, Sweat, and Prayers | One man's journal of ministry among New York City's firefighters and police officers at Ground Zero. (Nov. 12, 2001)
Day of Terror, Day of Grace | In the wake of fatal attacks killing thousands, Christians steer America toward prayer, service, and reconciliation. (Sept. 25, 2001)
Where I Minister, Grace Abounds Over Sin | At Ground Zero, a New York pastor becomes a symbol that God is present and available. (Sept. 24, 2001)
The End of the World (Trade Center) | Dispatches from out of the dust. (Sept. 19, 2001)
'Is That Thunder?' | With metal cracking at the World Trade Center, New York pastors cry out to God. (Sept. 14, 2001)
In the Belly of the Beast | Christians, calling terrorist attack "satanically brilliant," minister at epicenter of World Trade disaster. (Sept. 12, 2001)
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