On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists armed only with box-cutter knives hijacked four passenger airliners to use as flying bombs. Some 3,000 people died as a result of the complete collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of the airplanes themselves. The calamity was shocking and heart-rending. This has been a year of mourning.
And this year, perhaps more than ever, Americans have been inspired to say, "God bless America." But how much do they pray, "God bless America"? And those three words can sound like a demand. We could at least say "please." And we should also be praying, Please grant us repentance and forgiveness and obedience so that we will deserve to be blessed.
Considering all the stresses and distresses of this past year, it is a wonder that we are doing as well as we are. Consider the frightful revelations of our homeland insecurity! Americans have learned how extremely vulnerable this country is to all sorts of terrorist attacks and sabotage. So why has there not been even one more terrorist attack on our mainland since 9/11/01? And why has our economy done as well as it has?
We in United Church of God believe it is God's doing. If God wants a country to be secure for a period of time, it has the greatest source of security possible. If God wants a country to remain prosperous for a while, it has the greatest possible element of success. But all this must not be interpreted as a sign of God's approval of this nation. God has always used people and nations for His purposes even at times when He is highly displeased with them. With God, justice delayed is still justice. God sees to it that all people and nations eventually reap what they sow.
Getting back to normal
And God must surely have been pleased with the spiritual awakening and rededication of many people following the calamity of 9/11. But probably not as pleased with most of them as we might think. God looks on the hearts and sees much better than any of us whether our religious rededication is superficial, misdirected and short-lived. We wondered how long it would take for this nation to get back to "normal." Well it didn't take very long. It wasn't long before church attendance was back down to its abysmally low level. It wasn't long before most people drifted back to their old bad habits of self-centeredness, partisan politics, lust, greed, dishonesty, immorality and hedonistic lifestyles.
After 9/11, there certainly was more prayer. Reportedly, there were many sincere prayers saying, Please help and comfort the families directly involved; thank you, Lord, that I didn't get incinerated; please protect me; please bless me; and God bless America. A year later, it seems that not many people are praying with anywhere near the same fervor. And though these requests were certainly appropriate, what other prayers are missing from this list that God would like to have heard?
From what was reported in the news, there weren't many prayers saying, Father, thank you for awakening us from our spiritual sleep; thank you for your mercy that our calamities have not been nearly as bad as what we deserve; please show me and the people of this country our sins so we can repent and get our lives on the right track; please forgive me for my sins; help me to study and understand and live by Your holy commandments and Your Word; and please guide us Americans to humbly rely on You much more than ourselves to fight our battles and to bring true peace.
This is not meant to be critical of America's leaders. Many of our top officials are dedicated Christians who are providing us with strong, courageous and visionary leadership. Many are doing the best they can with what they know and understand of God's ways. But this humanistic world relies too heavily on e-mail and technology rather than knee-mail and theology.
"God bless America"
The biblical prophecies reveal that in the end time, the people of these Anglo-Saxon countries will continue to drift further and further from knowing and living by the Bible. And that is in spite of the fact that God has given them an abundance of blessings, including ready access to relatively inexpensive Bibles. God's Word says, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48).
As a result, God has required much of the United States--to set a righteous example that would logically be expected of a country with a Judeo-Christian heritage. Sadly, in that responsibility, the United States is failing miserably. Bible prophecy foretold the rise of the United States and it foretells something hard to envision at the present time--the fall of the United States and its key allies, ultimately to be conquered militarily. Once the Western nations have suffered the consequences they deserve, God will judge and punish the rest of the nations of the world just prior to the climactic return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
The fact that the United States is taking a strong stand and waging war on terrorism is admirable. And it probably is buying us more time to get our spiritual lives in order and for the Church to reach many more people with the life-saving message about the soon-coming Kingdom of God. At the same time, the financial and other costs of war, crime, dishonesty, greed, immorality, natural (and unnatural!) disasters, the negative balance of trade and our growing national debt are rapidly draining away our resources, setting the stage for America's downfall. God has His own timetable, and we can be sure everything is happening right on time.
Our Pledge of Allegiance still says this nation is "under God." If this nation and the world truly submitted to the rule of God, including the Ten Commandments, we would be shown the way to peace. If a war were needed, God would fight our battles. It didn't cost much for the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.
God gives fair warnings
A perusal of the Bible makes it clear that God gives warnings before He punishes individuals and nations. The warnings come verbally through prophets and preachers. And they come through calamities, as warning shots or spankings. There is ample reason to believe that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were allowed by our loving God as a stern warning to awaken us spiritually--to give us another chance to see our disobedience and depravity and to repent of our sins. "If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?" (Amos 3:6).
Religious leaders all tried to give perspective and comfort, but the ones who called for national repentance were shouted down. When they said the tragedy was because of our collective sins, most of them did not mean that those who died or were injured in the attacks were more evil than the average American, but their messages were misrepresented that way in the press. If any preachers did mean that, they were clearly wrong, as Jesus Christ explained that those who suffer tragedies are not necessarily worse sinners, "but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5). The main point is this: the primary response to calamities should be individual and national self-examination and repentance.
Timeline of Critical Events on Sept. 11, 2001
8:45 a.m. EDT: American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston , with 92 on board, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, setting it afire.
Right kind of patriotism
Patriotism toward one's country can be wholesome, noble and inspiring, or it can be cocky, narcissistic and chauvinistic. Of course, love for God must be one's highest priority and allegiance. The prophet Jeremiah was patriotic in the best sense of the word. His love for his country Judah was deep and strong, but he did not ignore or excuse the sins of the people. On the contrary, he preached year after year, showing the people their sins and pleading with them to repent so they would be forgiven and blessed. He wanted them to escape the awful punishment that the people were bringing on themselves.
But most of the leaders and citizens disliked and rejected Jeremiah because he wasn't preaching what they wanted to hear. They said his messages were pessimistic and unpatriotic because he denounced the evils and prophesied their captivity rather than being a cheerleader for the culture. They wanted comfortable, reassuring messages that all would be well because they were God's favored people. Just like many people today, they wanted to feel religious without being righteous--without submitting to God's laws. They didn't want to hear repent. They wanted to hear, God bless Judah.
How long will the blessings and protection God has bestowed on this country continue on? A realistic assessment would indicate not long. But the people of the United States, insulated and isolated by prosperity and geography, often haven't seen the storm clouds on the horizon. Americans tend to be self-absorbed in a materialistic and hedonistic culture. The news is dominated by sensational happenings on the domestic scene. While Americans are now paying more attention to the international scene, the focus on Islamic extremists distracts us from what may be even more significant developments elsewhere, especially in Europe. Bible prophecy reveals that America will one day be involved in another great war, and once again it will be with an enemy based in mainland Europe.
The book written by Jeremiah is timely and relevant to our nations today. If our country does not heed Jeremiah's warnings and those heralded by God's people today, a worse destruction than 9/11 awaits. Then, after the return of Jesus Christ, there will be a time of restoration and rebuilding of the nations of the earth. More than ever before, all people will see God bless America.
Parallels with Pearl Harbor
There are many parallels between this fateful day and another major turning point in our history, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, referred to by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "day of infamy." Both were absolutely shocking and sickening visual spectacles. But rather than the world only seeing black-and-white film footage long after the attack, this time much of the world was able to watch on color television the real-time unfolding of the horrifying events and the incessant replay of them as well.
And this time the attack was on our mainland, in the heart of our largest city, against its most prominent and cherished landmarks, and against civilians rather than military personnel. Being the city's tallest skyscrapers filled with prestigious corporate giants of capitalism, and being in the heart of the country's financial district, they were regarded as symbols of America's economic greatness. The swift destruction of those beautiful buildings may turn out to be the beginning of the end of America's financial strength.
Bible prophecy has more to say about the future of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and other Anglo-Saxon countries than any other countries. If you want to understand this extremely important Bible subject, please request or download our eye-opening booklet The United States and Britain in Prophecy. It's yours free for the asking.
The terrorist attacks, as bad as they were, could have been even much worse. That subject was covered in "Reflections on September 11, 2001" in the November 2001 issue of United News, still available to read at www.ucg.org. That article partially answered the question, "What did God not allow to happen?"