This September 11 is the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Let us mark this day with thoughts about the 9/11 we know about, the one we never knew, and the one that will certainly happen to us.
The 9/11 We Think About (2001)
The first plane that hit the World Trade Towers, Flight 11, immediately killed 92 people on board that flight. Flight 175 that hit the second tower a few minutes later killed 65 people on board. In the towers themselves, it appears now that 2,595 people perished when the towers fell, including those who worked there, visited there, and those who entered to save them.
Flight 77 carried 64 people when it hit the Pentagon within an hour after the first attack. Inside the Pentagon 125 people died in addition to these 64. Flight 93 with 45 people aboard turned around over Pennsylvania and was headed . . . where? The White House? The Congress? Todd Beamer and others wrestled control from the hijackers, it seems, and the plane crashed with no survivors near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All 45 people died. The total fatalities in these terrorist events were 2,986.
The numbers sound too calculating. So it might good for you to go to the Tribute WTC 9/11 Visitor Center and put faces on the families who bear the scars today of precious loved ones so swiftly amputated from their souls.
A 9/11 Most of Us Have Never Heard Of (1857)
There was another American 9/11. I just read about it in the September/October issue of Books and Culture. John G Turner reviewed, Blood of the Prophets, Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He tells the story of the 9/11 Massacre of 1857.
On Friday, September 11, 1857, a Mormon settler named John D. Lee used a white flag to approach a besieged emigrant [wagon] train in southwestern Utah. Unexpectedly, the pioneers had traveled into a maelstrom. As they made their way from Arkansas to Utah, roughly one-third of the entire American army was journeying toward the Great Basin, escorting a non-Mormon governor designated by President James Buchanan to replace Brigham Young. Only 13 years after the murder of Joseph Smith and with stark memory of his people's expulsion from Missouri and Illinois, Young prepared for war, ordering Mormons not to sell needed food or ammunition to gentile emigrants. Throughout August, tensions between Mormon settlers and the pioneers flared as the group made its way through southern Utah.
When Lee approached them, the emigrants had been holed up for four days at a lush watering place called the Mountain Meadow. On Monday, a barrage of Indian gunfire and arrows had surprised them at daybreak. After losing a dozen or so of their number, the pioneers successfully circled their wagons, dug fortifications, and fought back. By Friday, however, they were running low on ammunition, parched from thirst, and out of hope. Lee, a major in Utah's Nauvoo Legion militia, offered to help. If they would surrender their weapons, he and his men would protect them from the Indians.
Despite their suspicions, the emigrants accepted Lee's offer. Lee placed the wounded and young children in wagons; behind them marched the emigrant women and older children, followed by the men. Next to each unarmed man marched a Mormon soldier. Alongside the trail, Paiute warriors were hidden in the brush. When Nauvoo Legion Major John Higbee gave the signal, the escorts turned and shot the emigrant men at point-blank range. The Paiutes, joined by some of the Mormons, butchered the women, older children, and wounded adults. No one escaped, although the attackers spared seventeen young children. The exact number remains uncertain, but roughly 120 men, women, and children perished. It was a premeditated and perfectly executed mass murder.
Of course, there are a thousand things in our histories that we are ashamed of. I am not pointing the finger at Mormons. Who can fathom human sin? If we knew the magnitude of the moral ugliness of it in our own hearts, we would tremble for ourselves first, not others. And we would prepare for our own 9/11. It is coming.
Our Future 9/11 (20??)
There is no escape. Every one of us will be snuffed out. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).
And on the way to death and paradise Paul assures us that we will pass through many afflictions: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In fact, the whole world will pass through times that will be filled with 9/11’s. Here is the way Jesus put it:
And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once. . . . Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:9-18)
How to Honor Those Who Died?
The greatest tribute we can pay to those who have perished in the past 9/11’s of the world is to believe that “not a hair of our heads will perish,” even if we are beheaded; and then to use that utter security to risk our lives in the service of people who suffer and are on the brink of eternal suffering.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).
This is the certainty that our 9/11 is coming, and that not a hair of our heads will perish.
Those who know they will certainly go through a 9/11 and come out of it in the presence of Christ, should be the freest, most risk-taking, sacrificial lovers in the world. It has been true: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). It can be true again.