Many Americans are reflective this week (and rightly so) as we remember the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01. It is natural for each of us to think about where we were when we heard the news and who we were with. For many of us it also served as a wake up call – that our country was not so indestructible as we thought and that our world was really more fragile and dangerous than we were led to believe.
For me, 9/11 served as another kind of wake up call. It was the first rumbling of disillusionment within my own soul of what really mattered. I remember sitting in Southern Seminary chapel (here in Louisville, KY) and hearing the news from the Seminary president, Dr. Albert Mohler. I remember him saying that the World Trade Center had been attacked and another attack was believed to be imminent.
I remember distinctly the fear and confusion I felt in those next few moments. Who had attacked? How extensive was the damage and loss of life? What kind of attack was believed to be imminent? Are we in danger of nuclear attack? I knew only one thing for sure – going back to class didn’t really matter anymore; I must get out of there and get to my wife and son (at the time, we only had Samuel). Nothing else mattered; I would face whatever came together with them.
As I processed my decision, I was discouraged by the response of the students around me; many were flippant about signs of God’s judgment falling on a “depraved America.” Others felt that the answer to this confusion and fear was to return to the world where they felt comfortable – the classroom and textbooks. As I skipped out on the remaining classes that day to be with my family I was saddened to think I might get in trouble with the school if I did so.
Up until this point, my relationship with Southern Seminary had been one of adulation and mutual affirmation. Something shifted in me that day though. Some cracks were beginning to form in the structure of my self and my sense of calling (which, at the time, was bound up with Southern). I’m not intending to bash Southern Seminary here, it just happens to be the place where these things occurred in my soul. 9/11 marked the beginning of deep subterranean cracks in the foundation I had trusted in for so long. It marked the beginning of the deepest, darkest valley I’ve ever known – what some ragamuffins have called the dark night of the soul.
From all appearances, I am still in this valley. I have seen many angels, demons and false selves, won and lost many battles, and seen many remarkable and mysterious providences of God in meeting with me to restructure my soul. As I think back to 9/11 this valley and what God has done in the midst of it is what I remember. Life is uncertain, but God is faithful. Those words seem so trite; the truth of them begs for bigger word-containers to bear them! But they are true nonetheless.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah (Ps 46:1-7 ESV)