As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has approached we have seen a lot of coverage of the event — a lot of “Where were you when?” and “The Lessons of 9/11” news pieces. I even shared with you my own experiences of that day.
But I didn’t share everything.
When I look back on one of the more memorable things I saw on 9/11 during my drive from Atlanta to Indianapolis, I am compelled to share with you what I consider to be the lesson of 9/11 to the Church. Note: I’ll share what I saw in a moment. First, the lesson…
The Lesson: God will lay low our idols.
You may be wondering how 9/11 could have taught us that lesson. First, let’s look to Scripture to see how God deals with idols and false gods. One of my favorite examples comes from 1 Samuel…
Israel was engaged in a war with the Philistines, and after a defeat on the battlefield it occurred to them that they were defeated because they did not carry the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord before them. So, the Israelites sent for the Ark.
“Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” — 1 Samuel 4:3
Quick question: Where is the faith of the Israelites, in God or in an object?
“As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.” — 1 Samuel 4:5
Israel got excited, but as we will soon see, they got excited for the wrong reason. You see, as the story continues Israel carries the ark into battle with them. And do you know what happened?
They were defeated again.
Yep, the ark didn’t change anything. Do you know what else?
The Philistines captured the ark.
The Israelites were using the ark as a means of manipulating God into giving them what they wanted — namely, a military victory over the Philistines. They looked upon God as the means to achieve their own glory. Their attitude was “God is on OUR side.” They placed their faith in an object, the ark, and effectively turned it into a good luck charm.
God will not long tolerate idols. They will all be laid low before Him.
Now, the Philistines completely misunderstood what had happened. In that day, when country A defeated country B, it was a sign that country A’s god was greater than country B’s god. The Philistines took their victory over Israel as a clear sign that their god, Dagon, was greater than the God of Israel. They were wrong. But they had to learn it the hard way.
After they captured the ark, the Philistines took it and placed it before their idol, Dagon, as a sort of offering to him. Let’s see what happened…
“When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.” — 1 Samuel 5:1-4
So, first God demonstrates to Israel that there is no power in the box they carried before them. Then, He gives the Philistines the impression that the box is greater than their god. In fact, the Philistines eventually get rid of the ark and send it back to Israel because they fear its power.
In both cases God pulled the rug out from under the idols. This brings me to what I saw on 9/11…
What I saw: Americans flocking to church buildings to pray.
On 9/11 churches opened up for prayer. In every town I drove through church parking lots were packed with cars. In one town the police directed traffic around the block because parked cars overflowing from a church parking lot had blocked the street.
On the radio I heard announcers commenting on this. “Our nation is returning to God,” one said. “The faith of our nation is on display,” another said.
My question then was “Where were all these people last Sunday?” My question today is, “Where have they been since?”
I don’t doubt that many Christians honestly turned to God during that time, their faith firm in Him. I saw plenty of that on 9/11, too. However, a big chunk of the people who darkened the doors of those church buildings on 9/11 were there because their idol had just been knocked to the floor. They weren’t there to honestly seek God. They were there to ask God to restore their idol to its original state. God was just a means to an end — namely, the restored glory of America.
I am convinced that the biggest idol in America is America. This is understandable for lost men — they are desperate to place their faith in something. But for actual, born-again Christians this is idolatry at the level of the Israelites.
We should know better.
Nations rise and fall at the will of our heavenly Father. They are but a drop in a bucket. This includes America. But even believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are prone to chase after idols. We must guard our hearts and minds lest we become caught up in the idolatry.
Sunday is the actual 10th anniversary of 9/11. I wonder how many churches will sing “God bless America” — a song that invites God to bless “the land that I love” — and how many will sing “The Doxology” — a song that does nothing but praise God for who He is. Will our prayers be asking God to glorify America? Or will we be more concerned with God’s glory?
On Sept. 11, 2001 God knocked our idol on its face before Him. If we don’t get the message, the next time He may just knock the head off of our idol completely — just like Dagon.