Today is the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I vividly remember watching the news in unbelief of what was happening and feeling the palatable fear and anger in the air. As I have skimmed through social media today, I have seen many posts on 9/11 ranging from political posts to tributes to the heroic actions of those who risked their lives to rescue ordinary people like you and me. Throughout the posts, videos, articles, and reflections though, something interesting has emerged. An emphasis this year seems to focus on the fact that there are now people for whom 9/11 is history like World War 2 and not something they experienced. I have read stories of adults who didn't know what had happened until much later because they were young when the attacks happened. There are those who are in high school now who have not known life in America when we were not at war and were not alive when the impetus for that war occurred. I have read posts from parents who lived through that terrible day and are asking the question "how do I talk to my kids about this"? While there are many answers out there, I would like to offer up a suggestion for Christians when it comes to the topic of talking about 9/11. Redeem it.
Reject, Receive, Redeem
This might seem overly simplistic, we live with three options. They can be summed up in 3 words, reject, receive, or redeem. We do this subconsciously all the time. Take "reject" for example. I was born under the Regan administration in the midst of the war on drugs. Nancy Regan championed the phrase "just say no" with regards to drugs. The idea behind it is there is nothing good about drugs and therefore, you should reject drugs. No good or benefit will come out of it so reject. What about "receive"? Let's say that you get called into the office of your boss and are told that it has been decided that you will be promoted and will get a raise. You have been working toward this for some time and so this is good news for you. You receive it. It's good. As a Christian, here is a very simple illustration of how this would look. We reject false gospels that teach you have to earn your way into God's favor and we receive the true gospel that God has done all that is necessary in Christ to give his favor to all who believe in Christ. Reject one, receive the other. One is clearly bad or wrong. The other is good.
What about "redeem"? If we are honest, there is a lot in life that could be good or bad. A lot that can be redeemed. Music can be redeemed. An example of this would be the genre of rap. In the secular world, rap is known for glorifying things that are wicked, yet there are some who have taken that genre and redeemed the content to reach people for Christ. They redeemed it. Time can be redeemed. Activities can be redeemed. Redeeming something means to win back. How can something as horrible as 9/11 be won back? How can we talk to our kids about 9/11 in a way that redeems it? I'm glad you asked.
The Christian Worldview
Our worldview is just a lens through which we see the world. We all have one. We all interpret the world through a worldview. For a Christian, our worldview, the lens through which we interpret the world, is a biblical one. Our lens is one that interprets in Biblical terms and categories. We should interpret the world around us in light of the truth of the Bible, the good news of the gospel, and the confidence we have in God's power, sovereignty, love and goodness.
In other words, as Christians we are to see the world through a biblical theological lens that is informed by the truth of the gospel and our relationship with God. God is the ultimate reality of the universe and the Bible reveals God. The Bible tells us of how God created the universe, what went wrong, and how God has worked through Christ to restore and redeem his creation. That gives us a way by which we can talk to our children that not only models the right way to interpret the world around them, but points them to God in the process.
9 Suggestions For Redeeming 9/11
1. Don't mask the reality of evil and sin. Sin and evil are real. They exist because of the fall. Things in our world are not as they were created to be. When Adam rebelled against God, something happened to humanity and they became infected with the sickness of sin. Untold suffering, pain, loss of life and wickedness has resulted from that. When we talk to our kids about 9/11, we must talk about the fact that evil exists. The attacks on 9/11 bear witness to the wickedness of humanity. They show that this life is full of evil and that it is real. They reveal that the human heart is sick with sin. It is only God's restraining grace that keeps us from all being living our the wickedness of our hearts to it's fullest extent.
2. Jesus redeems us from sin. If evil and sin are real, and God is just and holy, how can we ever have hope of fellowship with God? The answer is the gospel. Jesus redeems us from our sin. He paid the price for the sin of all who believe in him. There is nothing that is so bad that God cannot forgive. There is no sin so great that God's grace cannot overcome it. There is no heart so hard that God is unable to take it out and replace it with a new one. God's grace is greater. Therefore, what we all need (since we all have wicked hearts apart from Christ) is the gospel. We need Jesus to pay for our sin and give us his righteousness by faith in him. Jesus used a horrible experience of people dying in a tower collapse to point people to their need for their sin to be taken by him (Luke 13:1-5).
3. You will have trouble. In other words, this should not be a surprise. If point 1 is true, then this life will be marked by pain, suffering and death. This world is hard, but it isn't our home. In John 16, Jesus spoke of his death and predicted that all would leave him. In verse 33 he said he told them about this because in this world they will have tribulation. We feel the effects of sin all around us daily. Even though we are following Christ and trusting him, sin still causes pain, suffering and sorrow. 1 Peter 4:12 warns of the same thing and says don't be surprised when trials come upon us as though something strange has happened. Evil actions affect us and even harm us. Life is hard.
4. Jesus overcomes the world. What hope is there then? Jesus tells his disciples in John 16:33 to take heart. Why? Because he has overcome the world. There is assurance of victory through what Christ has accomplished. So while we suffer in this life, and while we feel the effects of sin, we endure with hope and confidence that Christ has decisively won the victory. In other words, we endure trials and suffering, sorrow and pain, differently than those outside of Christ. There is assurance that all will be set right. As the poem about Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe says "Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, at the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, when he bared his teeth, winter meets it's death, and when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again".
5. Fear is silenced by Jesus. Many remember a sense of fear when 9/11 happened. We even fear that talking about something so horrible will cause our kids to fear. No matter what the fear, whether fear of a terrorist attack or fear of a stuffed animal, the remedy is the same. Christ calms all our fears. We can take our fears to him with confidence that he hears us and cares for us. We can live in courage because he has overcome the world. We have not been given a spirit of fear or timidity (2 Tim 1:7). As a parent, I tell my children that I will protect them the best I can, but I will fail. There is one who never fails. One who is always there and always in control and works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). If Jesus says don't fear, and you trust in Jesus, you can confidently not fear because God has been pleased to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32).
6. We should pray for our enemies. We are called to love our enemies. We are called to pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Talking about 9/11 gives us a tremendous opportunity to model prayer for our enemies to our children and teach them something about how to respond to our enemies. We don't ignore that they are enemies who hate us. What should our response be to that as Christians though? We are to love them and pray for them. In this, we are equipping our children to be salt and light in their schools and playgrounds. The basis for this is simple... We were once enemies of God (Romans 5:10). God loved us while we were enemies by sending Christ to die for us (Romans 5:8). If we were loved and prayed for while enemies (see John 17:20... Jesus prayed for believers before they were believers) and have received God's grace, we can reflect his goodness in how we treat our enemies.
7. Life ends without notice. Don't hope in this world. Those in the towers had no idea as they went to work that they would perish that day. That is a sobering thought. We live in that reality every day. We don't know what the day will hold and can no more control what happens or whether we live or die than we can hold the ocean in our hands. James 4:13-15 is instructive. Life is like a vapor. It ends without notice. We should live in humble submission to God and his will. We should seek him in all of our decisions and not trust in our own wisdom. We should not be like the man who builds bigger barns (Luke 12:16-21). That man's life was over without notice. Therefore, we can teach two implications. First, our children need to trust in Jesus. We can use this to show them that they need Jesus now, today, at this moment (2 Cor 6:1-2). Second, we can use this to teach them that if we hope in this world or the things of this world, we will be left with noting, but if we hope in God, we have immeasurable and eternal treasure in God.
8. God will see to it that justice is done. It can seem at times in this life as though justice is not done. There are times when the guilty go without punishment. While that may be true in this life, God will see that justice is done (Romans 12:19; Psalm 37:27-29). Every wrong will be made right, every evil punished, every injustice will meet justice. So we trust God's judgement will not fail and pray for his justice to triumph and come quickly. We pray that his holiness will be vindicated and trust him to do it. As we wait for that final day when God's justice shall triumph, we should seek to see justice is done in this life. That means first that we should live justly. We should practically seek to see justice done (as much as it depends on us) in this life. That informs how we live and treat others. That might mean teaching your child to stand up against injustice or to be willing to witness accurately to an injustice they have witnessed. Second, we can teach our children that God uses earthly governments to execute justice in this life, and therefore, we should seek to see that just men and women are appointed to serve in our government and speak out when our government is acting unjustly.
9. It is not a wasted life to take the gospel to those who hate us. Point your children to the fact that the great commission (Matt 28:18-20) calls for us to take the gospel to all different people groups. Read them stories about men and women who have been missionaries in hard places, especially stories of those who have given their lives to take the gospel to a place that hated Christianity. Read stories of martyrs to them. Show them that it is not a wasted life to die taking the gospel to those hostile to Christ. Pray with them that God will raise up missionaries to go to Islamic countries and take the saving news of Jesus to those who are lost. Pray for the people of Islamic nations that God would save them from their sin and reconcile them to himself. God can use a horrible event to advance his good purpose by awakening a love for the lost in the hearts of our children and maybe, someday, 9/11 will be known for being the event that God used to call tremendous number of missionaries to herald the gospel in nations enslaved to Islam.
As Christians, we have the opportunity to be a part of God's plan to bring good out of evil. So let us redeem 9/11 and use it to point to the reality of sin, the victory of Christ, and may God use it to mobilize an untold number of men and women to pray for our enemies and take the gospel to them.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh, Ainsley, and Olivia, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast