I am old enough to remember where I was the day John F. Kennedy was killed. And when the Twin Towers were hit. On September 11, 2001, I was visiting my parents in Penang. (I was then living in KL.) I received a call on my mobile from my friend Alvin Ung. He asked me to turn on the TV. “They are like two burnt match sticks” he said. Like millions around the world, I watched the horror unfold. My first thoughts were of my friends in America. Were any of them affected? Were any of their loved ones affected? The audacious attacks and the aftermath occupied our discussions long after 9/11. We still hear their echoes today.
Being so far removed from the scene of the attacks, and not having lost any loved ones in that horror, I found that I couldn’t empathise with any degree of authenticity. Indeed as the years unfolded I sometimes found myself wondering why so much attention was being given to the attacks on the Twin Towers when equally horrible things happened in other countries. I sometimes felt that the prominence given to 9/11 by the media was another example of a U.S.-centric world, or at least a U.S.-centric English language media. I understand 9/11 was a horrendous tragedy. But there are many tragedies in our broken world that never seem to get mentioned.
Revisiting the events through the numerous TV programmes commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks, I found myself confronted afresh by the savagery of the attacks. I found myself chastised. Of course my American friends had every right to be pained and outraged by 9/11. They had every right to process these events in their hearts and minds, and in the media, both then and now. So many lives were lost, each life a life that carried the image of his or her Creator. Horrors that happen elsewhere do not in any way lessen the horror of 9/11. Besides, those who died on that fateful day came from 90 countries. This was not an American tragedy. This was a human tragedy.
Perhaps 9/11 can serve by reminding us that something is wrong with humanity. 9/11 is an echo of Cain smashing the head of his brother Abel.
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8 NIV)
The Bible is utterly clear that once humankind sinned and broke their relationship with God, their relationship with each other was also broken. The 9/11s of this world remind us of this breach. 9/11s are God’s megaphones, a wakeup call to remind us of our most fundamental need: the need to be reunited with Him.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001, 91.)
The gospel is bad news before it is good news. 9/11 is horrendous bad news. But it may just lead some to understand how lost we are. Which is the first step to being found.