The terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, resulted in almost 3,000 people losing their lives and about 3,000 children under the age of 18 losing a parent. Plus countless injuries, great physical and financial devastation, excruciating anguish and trauma and national humiliation. Many effects of that nightmare are still with us ten years later.
What happened that day was a monumental tragedy, but it could have been much worse. The facts that follow are not meant to downplay that catastrophe but to serve as a reminder of the bad things that could have happened but did not happen.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that the Creator God rules the universe and is always in control. “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). Jesus said, “not one (sparrow) falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29). Amos wrote, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?” (Amos 3:6).
God allowed the attacks, but we won’t know until Christ returns what calamities He prevented. While we reflect and grieve we should also give God our profuse thanksgiving for the mercy He has shown in limiting the death and destruction on 9/11—and every other day for that matter.
In fact, God may have provided miracles of protection every day in the last 10 years! Although the U.S. federal and state governments have worked hard to provide “homeland security,” our defenses are extremely porous and puny. With so many enemies wanting to harm the United States and with so many possible methods of causing death and destruction, it is amazing that the terrorists have not been a lot more successful than they have been in causing harm to this country.
God certainly doesn’t protect us from all tests, trials and tribulations. He allows them to occur (and sometimes causes them to occur) so He can use them to teach lessons, bring people to repentance, or bring about other good results. He not only is the Master at making lemonade from lemons, He often provides the lemons to begin with. In Romans 8:28, Paul tell us, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” The attacks of 9/11 definitely triggered many beneficial consequences, although some of them were only temporary. But the Romans 8:28 principle is a big subject for another article. We’ll now focus on how 9/11 could have been much worse.
The targets of the attacks
Had the jetliners crashed into the lower portion of the twin towers, the buildings would have fallen sooner and many more persons in the buildings and on the ground would have been trapped and killed. The buildings may have toppled like falling trees, destroying many other important buildings. (As it was, several other buildings were severely damaged.) A domino effect of falling buildings could have resulted in the loss of life of hundreds of thousands.
The hijackers of the other two planes may have intended to fly those planes into the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Both houses of Congress were in session on that day, and surprise attacks could have wiped out much of the executive and legislative leadership of the United States.
We don’t know what was the hijacker’s original plan for American Airlines flight 77, but the tragedy at the Pentagon could have been much worse. Had the plane’s trajectory been a little higher, it could have hit the inside rings on the opposite side of the Pentagon where are located the offices of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many other high-ranking military officials. With one blow, the world’s most powerful military could have lost its top leaders. As it was, the plane smashed into a recently remodeled and reinforced section that was not yet fully occupied. That kept the death toll from being much higher.
The fourth plane, United Airlines 93, was delayed 41 minutes in its departure from Logan Airport in Boston. That delay made it possible for the passengers while in flight to receive cell phone calls reporting the attacks in New York and to realize the probable reason for their hijacking. As a result, some passengers heroically fought the hijackers, which brought the plane down in Pennsylvania before it could be used as a bomb on a strategic target.
The number of people in the Twin Towers and the number of plane passengers
Thankfully, at the time of the attacks, many who worked in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had not arrived at their jobs. Whereas about 22,000 employees worked in each tower, it is estimated that less than 10,000 were in each tower at time of impact.
Remarkably, both the number of employees who decided they could not go to work that day and the number of employees who were delayed or running late in getting to work were unusually high!
In the days and weeks that followed 9/11, we heard many stories of all kinds of strange circumstances that kept employees from getting to work or getting to work on time. We wonder how many of those “circumstances” were orchestrated by God!
It’s also fascinating that the number of passengers on the four planes was far less than capacity. AA 11 had only 92 people on board, and UA 175 was carrying only 65 people, but those two Boeing 767’s each had a capacity of 351. AA 77 had only 64 people on board, and UA 93 was carrying only 45, but those two Boeing 757’s each had a capacity of 289. The deaths of 266 people on those planes is tragic, but the number could have been as high as 1,280!
Greater tragedies that could have happened
Terrorists had their big opportunity for surprise attacks when the United States was lax in security and preparedness. In hindsight, we can imagine many scenarios with much greater destruction and loss of life. We can be thankful not only that they didn’t hit the Capitol or White House, but also that they didn’t detonate nuclear bombs, blow up nuclear plants, spread massive biological infection, or cripple our communications capabilities. The terrorists may have been so determined to humiliate America by attacking symbols that they failed to do more strategic harm.
Similarly, the Japanese failed to accomplish their primary objective when they bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. They wanted to destroy the aircraft carriers, but the carriers were all at sea away from the port at the time. Those carriers were critically important in the ensuing war against Japan. Quite likely, God allowed the Pearl Harbor bombing to awaken America to join the war against Japan and Germany, and at the same time protected the aircraft carriers.
God has been merciful to all peoples in all places in all times, but it should be clear that He has truly showered His blessings on Britain and the United States. Many miracles have been especially obvious during many of their wars. It is primarily because of God’s providence that these nations have prospered and that they have even survived!
Why has God bestowed special blessings on these nations? That is explained in our free booklet, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy. That booklet also points out the prophecies of how these nations would collectively and increasingly turn their backs on God and will suffer catastrophic consequences as a result. And it points out a plethora of spiritual lessons that all of us need to focus on and apply.
What can we do as individuals?
This article is accompanied by a companion article, “Thoughts on the Anniversary of 9/11: Relying on God to Defend and Protect You.”
“With God, all things are possible,” including incredible miracles of protection (Matthew 19:26). But each of us wonders: How likely is it that God will protect me—even when I’m threatened with grave danger? What does the Bible have to say about this? Please read the companion article.
We’ve reviewed a few facts as evidence that 9/11 could have been much worse. To those who believe in a miracle-working God, the facts of that day are evidence of countless miracles.