Do you remember where you were when you first learned of the 9/11 tragedy? I was in my campus dorm room at Texas A&M. Do you remember what church was like that following Sunday? I’ve never seen it so packed! People flocked to houses of worship in an effort to process the event.
Some hailed 9/11 as a great ‘evangelistic opportunity’ because the national level of grief was overwhelming and many were turning to churches in an effort to cope. Maybe your church had a special service in response to the situation; jampacked with the combination of patriotism and gospel message.
Do you remember what church was like a month later? a year later? now 5 years later? It seems as if the response was short lived. In fact, The Barna Group has released a report detailing how 9/11 has no lasting impact on American’s faith.
The study shows that despite an intense surge in religious activity and expression in the weeks immediately following 9/11 the faith of Americans is virtually indistinguishable today compared to pre-attack conditions. Barna’s tracking surveys looked at 19 dimensions of spirituality and beliefs. Remarkably, none of those 19 indicators are statistically different from the summer before the attacks!
No lasting impact. Why is that? It’s simple–tragedy is enough to drive people towards God, but it is not enough to keep them there. Tragedy is enough to cause people to seek comfort and clarity, but it is not enough to keep conviction. Tragedy is enough to inject a dose of temporary spiritual adrenaline, but it is not enough to produce lasting spiritual results.
I am reminded of the Old Testament nation of Israel who is repeatedly caught up in a pattern: rebellion, rebuke, reproach, repentance, restoration, repeat. They sin. The prophets rebuke. They are disciplined, They return to God. They are restored to right relationship with God. But then, whether it be quickly or whether it be a generation away, the nation relapses into the idolatrous evil that restarts the whole process. The tragedy of their judgment never leads them to lasting change.
No lasting impact. Why is that? It is the Holy Spirit, not tragedy, that is able to produce lasting change in the spiritual life of a person. Israel didn’t have the Spirit indwelling them (like believers do today), and many of those who showed up in the church’s pews the Sunday after 9/11 didn’t have the Spirit indwelling them. Without God’s Spirit, why should we expect anything different?
Five years ago, our nation’s history was changed forever. So, on the 5 year anniversary, there are some things we should all do:
- We should all spend some time reflecting on the tragedy of the situation. We should not only mourn the tragedy of lost lives, but that should also drive us to mourn the greater tragedy of so many people who sought solace from the church after the event only to leave within months because they were not captivated by the gospel message or convicted of sin.
- We should all spend some time reflecting on the goodness of God in the midst of tragedy. God wasn’t surprised by 9/11. God did not directly cause 9/11. But He allowed it to be a part of His greater plan of reconciling a lost world to Himself. In the midst of the injustice of the situation, we must recognize His goodness in it.
- We should all spend some time reflecting on the coming of Christ. This world is fading away, and a new creation is coming in which there will be no more tragedy. No more 9/11. No more tears. No more suffering. No more fear. No more terrorism. Christ is coming as a king to restore His kingdom. This should fill is us with hope to know that our light and momentary sufferings in this life are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory in the next.
The impact of 9/11 on American’s faith quickly passed. The impact of the 5th anniversary of the tragedy on American’s faith will probably pass even quicker. Let this window of opportunity be, for all of us, a teachable time full of reflection on the goodness of God in the midst of tragedy and the need of the Spirit to produce lasting life change.