9/11 and the Shape of Faith
Eighteen years ago, our nation changed forever. If you're reading this and you're over a certain age you can probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing the moment you heard about the horrific attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. I remember where I was. I was in the 11th grade and in Mrs. Gibbs' English class at Demopolis High School. I remember our principal announcing over the intercom that America was under attack. The next few hours and days were nerve wracking because no one knew if or when we'd be attacked next.
For me, personally, 9/11 shaped my faith journey unlike any other event (obviously other than my salvation) in my life. There were two events that happened around the same time that started me on a journey of deeper faith and love for the gospel. So, for a few minutes, let me take you back to 2001. We'll call it "2001 - A Faith Odyssey." Ok, I'm sorry, that was really corny but I couldn't let it pass.
Key "Event" #1:
At some point (I'm not exactly sure when) around the year 2001, my dad gave me a book that was waaay over my head but started speaking directly to my heart. It was C.S. Lewis's classic Mere Christianity. I struggled through the depth of Lewis's writing and understanding what it was he was saying. Let me share with you a portion of the opening words.
Every one has heard people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: "How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?"—"That's my seat, I was there first"—"Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm"— "Why should you shove in first?"—"Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine"—"Come on, you promised." People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.
Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: "To hell with your standard." Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise.
It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.
Now, if you made it through that, congratulations! I'll be honest, as a 16/17 year old kid, I was drowning in the swamp of C.S. Lewis.
I had no idea what Lewis was saying...until 9/11...and the next event in my life.
Key "Event" #2
It was January 2002, and our youth group attended Scott Dawson's "Strength to Stand" conference in Pigeon Forge, TN. One of the speakers at the conference was an older silver-haired man wearing a bright (and I mean BRIGHT) yellow Tommy Hilfiger track suit. I don't know if he was trying to be relevant and come across cool to a couple thousand teenagers but, man, he was dressed "loudly."
His words, however, were even louder.
His name was Josh McDowell and I will never forget his talk that day. He began by coming out into the audience - a crowd of a couple thousand teenagers - with a wireless microphone. Here we were, four months removed from the worst terrorist attack on American soil, and he asks this theater full of teenagers the most obvious question any of us could have answered.
"Was what the terrorists did in September evil? Was it wrong?"
Of course, every single person in that room yelled "Yes! It was evil! It was wrong!" We were red blooded American teenagers - many of whom probably enlisted in the military in response to 9/11. Then, Josh McDowell did something that has been etched in my mind ever since. He worked us up in to a frenzy declaring the Muslim Jihadists as evil and then stuck the microphone in the faces of several teenagers and asked, "Why? Why was what they did wrong?"
There were, obviously, a myriad of answers but most included something along the lines of, "Well, murder is a sin. God says 'Do not murder' and they broke God's law." Every Bible belt American teenager with a microphone in their face defended their answer by appealing to God and His commands.
What none of us expected was when Josh McDowell looked us all in the face and said, "How can you say that what they did was evil? To them, they were just obeying their god. They were being obedient to kill infidels so that they could inherit paradise as martyrs. Their god says it's ok. What makes their god wrong and your god right? Who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong?"
Silence. And, it was there in my seat in Pigeon Forge, TN in January 2002, that I was confronted with the idea that there is a universally objective moral law and that two opposite truth claims can't both be true. And, I'll never forget, it was in that moment that C.S. Lewis finally began to make sense.
From that moment I began to read all I could of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer and all of the writings of other great Christian apologists. My understanding of what a worldview is, what truth is, why truth matters and how we ultimately make sense of the world was shaped by the events on and surrounding September 11, 2001. I went on to begin my Master's degree at SEBTS in Apologetics but eventually switched to focus on Church History (thanks to Steve McKinion).
I say all of this because 9/11 drastically changed lives forever - most which negatively. For me, in spite of the evil and darkness of that event, it launched me into a spiritual journey that I am grateful for and has given me a deeper love for knowing the truth as revealed in Jesus Christ.