Most Americans did something on Sunday to commemorate the attacks on America September 11, 2001. On that day, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airline planes, flying two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one crashed in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The combined death toll of the terrorist acts was 2,996.
The effectiveness of the terrorist plot executed on U.S. soil rocked the American ego to its core. The extensive efforts to memorialize the events of that day demonstrate the attempt to regain that sense of American supremacy. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, constructed at the site of the World Trade Center, is estimated to cost $350 million. The memorial to the victims of Flight 93 outside Shanksville has already required over $52 million and needs at least $10 million for completion. The Pentagon Memorial Fund has set a target of $32 million for its construction.
Each year at the memorial service, organizers prohibit speeches by politician, requiring them to do readings only. President Obama chose to read Psalm 46 this year, a psalm celebrating God’s selection of Jerusalem as his chosen city through which he will bless the world. It exalts the supremacy of God over all nations and his unsurpassed ability to protect his chosen city.
Portions of that psalm read:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way …. 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. … Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
The President’s suggestion that the U.S. has a special position in God’s program will win the applause of a majority of Americans, but such an opinion cannot stand the scrutiny of biblical interpretation. God has made no promises to this country for special protection or blessing. The persistent effort of the U.S. to marginalize God and reduce him to a spiritual token places it at the mercy of a holy and just God.
America trusts God for protection as much as it trusts Iran for reliable intelligence.
It trusts in a military force unequaled in the world. It trusts in its powerful corporations that have dictated the global economy for decades. It trusts in a political system that preserves power for the wealthy and connected. It trusts in a smug scientific community to rescue Americans from the effects of their hedonistic indulgences. But trust in God as a refuge and strength? Where is the evidence? If it trusts God, why did planners of the memorial service exclude all religious leader and all prayer?
Following the 9/11 tragedy, churches experienced a sudden surge in attendance. The fear-induced knee-jerk interest in religion subsided in a few months. Our government, inflated by its military complex, was adequate to restore peace and protect our prosperity. People returned to Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Those great deals could not be passed up.
A week after Middle Eastern fanatics insulted the U.S. with its terrorist plot, a rare bipartisan Congress authorized Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The U.S. led military operation pledged to dismantle the Al-Qaeda organization in order to protect freedom in the developed world. Eighteen months later, political leaders spun military intelligence on the Wheel of Fortune to justify an invasion of an impotent Iraq.
The true object of U.S. trust, its military might, exercised its own brand of justice to “break the bow and shatter the spears” of those who would dare to slap the face of the leading democratic society in the free world.
The annual memorial service seeks to remember those who died in this tragic attack. The hyped public performance seems to display inappropriately the grief of family and friends that would better be kept private. But this overt exhibition argues for an attempt to inflate an injured national pride, to restore the bravado to a country that demonstrated a chink in its armor. Nationalism trumps theism.
U.S. forces liberated Iraq. Saddam Hussein was captured, tried and executed by the new government of Iraq. Osama Bin Laden was allegedly flushed out and killed. The U.S. is withdrawing its troops from Iraq, nine years after the invasion. The President plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in the next year, eleven years after the incursion. Thousands of people lie in graves, including U.S. soldiers and innocent civilians, in the name of democracy and freedom, not because leaders were acting in submission to the Lord of hosts.
I appreciate the President’s effort to turn the hearts of Americans to God on such an auspicious occasion. On the surface, it appears sincere, but on closer examination it seems hypocritical. I do not pretend to know his motives, but if he really intends to turn to God for refuge and strength, he needs to revise current American military policies to conform to God’s carefully balanced justice and mercy.
“He has told you, O man what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)