The date September 11, 2001, is
forever etched in the national memory of the United States. That morning stands
as the never-to-be-forgotten morning when time stood still. Wherever we were,
we stared in horror and confusion. With calculated and unconscionable malice,
beastly terrorists stabbed our nation repeatedly in the heart—at the World
Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and along a quiet
countryside in southwest Pennsylvania.
We remember and honor the almost three thousand
dead—American citizens and foreign visitors. The anniversary of September 11
may be one we’d like to forget . . . but we won’t, because we can’t.
We dare not forget.
Chronicle of Chaos
You only have to read a brief log of
events to remember what transpired that frightening morning. The times I refer
to are based on central standard time.
a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 left Boston bound for Los
Angeles with fifty-six passengers, two pilots, and seven flight
minute later, at 6:59 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 departed Boston en
route to Los Angeles with eighty-one passengers, two pilots, and nine
minutes later, at 7:01 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark, New
Jersey, headed to San Francisco with thirty-eight passengers, two pilots,
and five flight attendants.
minutes later, at 7:10 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 took off from
Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. bound for Los Angeles with
fifty-eight passengers, two pilots, and four flight attendants.
minutes later, at 7:45 a.m., American Flight 11 plunged into the north
tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan—a direct hit.
minutes after the north tower was hit, at 8:03 a.m., United Flight 175
crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
minutes after the south tower was hit, at 8:43 a.m., American Flight 77
crashed full throttle into the Pentagon, ripping open a hole at least two
hundred feet wide on the west side. Flames exploded from the nerve center
of our nation’s major military facility.
minutes after the Pentagon was hit, at 8:50 a.m., the south tower of the
World Trade Center collapsed.
minutes later, at 8:58 a.m., an emergency dispatcher in Westmoreland
County, Pennsylvania, received a cell phone call from a man who said he
was a passenger locked in the bathroom of United Flight 93. The dispatcher
quoted the man as saying, “We are being hijacked! We are being hijacked!”
The man then said the plane was going down and reported some sort of
explosion and white smoke coming from the plane. At that moment, the
dispatcher lost contact.
minutes after that cell phone call, at 9:10 a.m., United Flight 93 from
Newark to San Francisco crashed near Somerset, Pennsylvania, eighty miles
southeast of Pittsburgh. Representative James Moran of Virginia, after a
Marine Corps briefing, said that hijackers evidently planned to crash the
plane into the presidential retreat at Camp David or the United States
- At the
same moment, 9:10 a.m., a portion of the Pentagon collapsed.
- Only nineteen
minutes after the Pentagon’s west side collapsed, at 9:29 a.m., the north
tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
The whirlwind of repeated tragedies left us stunned, reeling
in disbelief. I thought I had already lived through America’s worst disasters.
How wrong I was.
Right on schedule, the horrible events, planned to the point
of precision, ran their course. Thousands of unsuspecting civilians were
brutally murdered. Our fellow Americans bled and died—some immediately, many
slowly and painfully, all unexpectedly. Others bravely escaped with their lives
bruised, broken, and burned. Whether whispered, shouted, or pondered in silence,
the question most people were asking was: “Why, God?”
Don’t Know Why, But I Do Know Who
In my many years on this earth, I
thought I had seen it all . . . until September 11, 2001. On that day, I got a
new understanding of the total depravity of humanity. And as a byproduct, I
have a new appreciation for the gifts of liberty and life itself—for the love
of my wife, my family, and my friends—and for the power of the human spirit to
press on and to recover from tragedy, no matter the sacrifice or cost.
Today, the men and women who made it through the hellish
anguish of September 11—who were in the towers and the Pentagon or who lost loved
ones on the planes and in the buildings and in that Pennsylvania field—live
with deep physical, emotional, and spiritual scars. Each anniversary, no doubt,
reopens those scars and causes many to question anew, “Why, God?” And if we’re
honest, as we contemplate recent world events, some of us wonder the same
I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: our God is still
sovereign; He is still in control. He is our refuge; He is our solid
foundation. We can hold on to that truth. We must hold on to that truth! How can we be so sure? Read on.
Firm a Foundation
At 7:30 p.m. on September 11, 2001,
as millions of Americans met in places of worship to pray, the president
addressed the nation in a speech we all watched and recorded for later viewing.
One statement he made stood out in my mind and still lingers today: “Terrorist
attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot
touch the foundation of America.”1
As I listened to President George W. Bush that somber night,
I remembered a psalm I had studied years ago. David wrote Psalm 11 probably
while being hunted by King Saul. With borderline insane paranoia, Saul had begun
seeking David’s life, believing the young man was out to get him and take his
position as king. David was on the run. As he wrote in the first part of this
psalm, he had fled as a bird to the mountain. And in that hiding place,
momentarily removed from danger, he asked this question:
“If the foundations
What can the righteous
do?” (Psalm 11:3)
Great question! Webster tells us a foundation is the
“basis . . . upon which something stands or is
supported.”2 Every house, every significant structure, every
building has a foundation. The taller the building, the deeper and more
important the foundation. Destroy the building’s foundation, and you topple the
This was precisely David’s point. He wasn’t referring to
structures. No house or building was in his mind, and there’s no reference to
such in this psalm. Instead, this psalm is about life. David was saying that if
the foundation of a life is destroyed, that life crumbles. But if the
foundation remains secure, no amount of stress—in David’s case, no attack by
Saul—can cause a life to fracture or crumble. Psalm 11 reveals that David could
feel this truth being put to the test.
You see, one of the most effective weapons in those days was
a sharp, slender arrow slipped from the bow and guided to the target by a
marksman’s eye. David viewed the treacherous, threatening words of Saul as
arrows coming from a warrior. Look at his vivid word picture:
Behold, the wicked
bend the bow,
They make ready their
arrow upon the string. (11:2)
David’s point was that the wicked bend their bows; they make
ready deadly arrows on the string. I don’t think he had literal bows and arrows
in mind. Rather, he was thinking of words shot at him and statements made
against him, as part of the plot to bring him down. But he wasn’t brought down
. . . because the foundations of his life were strong.
If those foundations hadn’t been secure, his life would’ve collapsed,
dropped like a sack of salt. How do I know his foundations were secure? Look again
at the first verse. Occasionally in the psalms, the gist of the whole message
is in the first sentence, and everything that follows is an amplification. This
psalm is like that:
In the Lord I take refuge;
can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your
David essentially said, “My soul is not on the run. My
spirit has not capsized, because in the Lord I take refuge.” A refuge is a
place of hiding, a place of protection. The ancient Hebrew term—chasah—means a protective place that
provides safety from that which would hit and hurt. It’s a protective shield from
danger and distress. David made it clear that Yahweh was his chasah. Because
that was true, David could know, and we can know, his foundations were sure.
An old country preacher once said, “I may tremble on the
rock, but the Rock don’t tremble under me.” He was right. The Rock is our solid
foundation. It stands firm no matter what. It is our place of refuge.
Is Our Refuge
That word refuge reminds me of another psalm—the forty-sixth. Who wouldn’t
find comfort in the hope of this ancient promise? This is the very psalm in
which Martin Luther found refuge more than five hundred years ago. Hiding in its
truths he found strength. Psalm 46 gave him fresh courage to press on, even
though he was misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated. How comforting to him were
those words, “God is our refuge” (chasah,
God is our refuge and
A very present help in
The opening lines of this
forty-sixth psalm later inspired Luther to write, “Ein’ Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott”—“A high tower is the Lord our God.”
We sing those words today:
A mighty fortress is
A bulwark never
Why is such a foundation sure? Because it is God Himself!
Our foundation is the God of creation. The God who made us is the God who
He who dwells in the shelter
of the Most High
Will abide in the
shadow of the Almighty. [El Shaddai]
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge [my chasah] and my
My God, in whom I
trust!” (Psalm 91:1–2)
No matter how insecure and chaotic our times may be! No
matter if terrorists topple our buildings or kill our fellow citizens! No
matter if God doesn’t fully answer our question, Why? On that solid foundation of our Sovereign God—and only there—we are secure.
Prayer of Remembrance
Lord, we bow before our great God,
who offers His peace when so many panic. You are our refuge, our one and only chasah. Rivet that into our minds. Prompt
us to pause, and let that sink in. Remind us of Your power and presence when
evening song changes into the fearful tears of the night. Remind us of that
when the shrill ring of the phone awakens us. Remind us of that when we sit
down and read the morning headlines. Remind us of that on this day of
remembrance—this eleventh anniversary of that infamous day, September 11, 2001.
Remind us, even when we don’t understand the why of what’s happening, that we
have no reason to fear, that we need not be moved, and that our future is never
uncertain with You.
In the strong name of Christ, our Shield, our Refuge, our almighty
- George W. Bush, “Statement by the President in His
Address to the Nation,” White House, Washington, D.C., September 11, 2001, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010911-16.html
(accessed July 18, 2011).
Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 2008),
- Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration
(Waco, Tex.: Word Music, 1986), 26.
from Charles R. Swindoll, Why, God? Calming Words for Chaotic Times
(Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001). Copyright © 2001 by Charles R. Swindoll,
Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.