Today, we as a nation remember one of those days which will always stand out in American history– September 11, 2001.
We all have our, “Where were you?” stories. Me? For me, 9-11 happened in the evening– I was in the forces deployed to South Korea and watched the events unfold live on the Armed Forces Network. It was an especially tense time for us, and we spent the next several weeks wondering if North Korea would take advantage of the opportunity. The base stayed in lock-down mode, and our chemical warfare gear was always by our side. Each year on the anniversary of 9-11, the emotions I experienced that evening flood my mind all over again.
Perhaps they do for you too.
As we look back on the events of 9-11, one common motto gets repeated the most: “Never Forget.” And certainly, no- we shouldn’t forget. We should look back and remember.
We remember the innocent lives lost. The brave souls who risked their lives- and some who gave their lives- to save the lives of others.
May we never forget the moms, the dads, and the children who were never reunited after that fateful day.
On this day I look back, I remember, and I pray.
I pray not only for my nation, but for the people of God who live in this nation, and pray that we will never forget. Yet, my prayer is that we will never forget so much more than just the events of that day.
What I pray we remember most is that the cycle of violence is never-ending, and the people of Jesus are invited to opt-out of that entire system.
There’s much to remember and learn from the years that have followed the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Sadly, the reaction of our nation (however justified one feels they were) only fed into the never-ending cycle of violence, and today we are as far from peace– if not farther– than we were on that day.
The cycle of violence is always the same.
They hit us, so we hit them– but harder. Naturally, they hit us back which only provokes us to hit them all over again. Before one can even realize what is happening, two sides can be locked into a never-ending cycle of increasing retaliation for the previous hit. Given enough time, some people on either side might not even understand why they’re fighting, other than each side having a now deep-seeded fear and hatred of the other.
An eye for an eye eventually becomes an eye for a life, a life for a neighborhood, a neighborhood for a nation, and so on. It’s a cycle where all participants lose regardless of which side one may consider innocent or guilty.
They killed a few thousand, so we killed a few hundred thousand. What happens next? Who knows. The cycle of violence can take on all kinds of ugliness.
It’s how the cycle of violence works. To stop it, there’s only two solutions: either one side must kill everyone on the other side leaving not even the children breathing (lest they one day avenge the death of their parents), or one side must choose to stop hitting back.
Those are the only two options.
While the United States was the victim on 9-11, we’ve spent the last decade trading an eye for a neighborhood, an eye for a nation, an eye for whatever felt justified in our own minds, and as a result, we are now no longer the innocent people we were on 9-11.
Sadly, trading an eye for a neighborhood didn’t even work– it had the opposite impact. With every drone strike that blows up a wedding of innocent people, with every child killed by our fire from the sky (something we call a “bug splat”), we have only created a new generation of people who want to hit us back. In many ways, we created new terrorists faster than we could kill the original ones.
And so here we are– remembering the first punch in a long cycle of people throwing punches.
And yes, we must remember. I remember falling on my knees in a small dorm room in Korea, and crying out to God on that evening. I remember the buildings falling, and that feeling deep within my spirit that I hadn’t felt before, and haven’t felt since.
But more than simply remembering the events of that day, my prayer is that the people of Jesus will remember to be prophetic voices to a world locked in the never-ending cycle of violence– that we might show the world a better way to live.
Jesus taught that violence only leads to more violence, and we certainly see that truth played out in the world around us. This day is one of those days we as Jesus followers must remember this truth, and testify to it.
Never forget the sadness and horror of that day? Yes. But may we never forget the words of Jesus himself in response to that:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also… You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”
As Jesus-followers, we are called to live like Jesus. We’re called to put away our swords, called to opt out of the ways of the world, and invited to bear witness to a Kingdom that functions by a different set of rules.
9-11 is a day to remember many things. Above all however, I pray on this day we’ll remember the cycle of violence is never-ending, and that the ‘eye for an eye’ system is never stops at just one eye.