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FIRST-PERSON: The day the world changed — again

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The world changed at 8:16 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Pilot Paul Tibbets banked and throttled up the Enola Gay as “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb, fell onto the unsuspecting citizens of Hiroshima. Co-pilot Bob Lewis, charged with keeping the mission log, looked back at the horizon to see a billowing firestorm rising into the sky.

Tibbets wondered, “What have we done?” Lewis wrote only two words to describe the horror he beheld — “My God.”

The men aboard the U.S. Army Air Corp B-29 bomber had flown into the age of atomic destruction. The fear that the world would be annihilated a thousand times over governed the political aspirations of the presidents of the United States and the regimes of the Soviet Union for five decades.

The world changed again at 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Men armed with box cutters and radical ideas wielded planes and innocent civilians as weapons. Their acts of cowardice were heralded in some corners of the Muslim world as a great victory for Allah.

Most of the world gasped and may even have said what Lewis said as he marveled at the destruction of Hiroshima. Although the devastation was much smaller than that in Japan in 1945, we knew then that nothing would ever be the same again.

The strongest nation on earth — clad in armor — was unable to protect its citizens. Terror had finally come to our shores.

Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Internet was jammed with prognosticators and political pundits contemplating a second wave of destruction and potential retaliatory strikes.

The events of Sept. 11 also gave birth to countless Internet theologians and doomsayers who held the Bible in one hand and pagan texts in the other. They spoke of warnings from Revelation and simultaneously claimed that Nostradamus had predicted the event in 1654 (he died in 1566).

Christianity Today reported that Hal Lindsey, author of “The Late Great Planet Earth,” claimed that he had warned of just such an Islamic conspiracy against the United States. Televangelist Jack Van Impe sat back and said (I paraphrase), “I told you so.” Countless others looked to see where the downfall of the United States was encoded in Daniel.

Some claimed to have seen the face of Osama bin Laden in smoke rising from the twin towers. Others claimed to have captured on film the very face of Satan in an ashen plume — as if the image was necessary to convince the world that evil lay behind the events of the day.

Meanwhile Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were defending an assault from commentators who mocked both for having suggested so audaciously that perhaps the attacks in New York and Washington were judgment from God. If they were not his judgment, he had — at the very least — withheld his protection, they said.

Thousands asked how the tragedies could have occurred. Millions upon millions asked, “Why?” and “Where was God?”

Those same millions went looking for God in churches. Church attendance increased by as much as 25 percent the week after the attack, according to Focus on the Family. A Gallup Poll and Barna Research Group indicated that 47-48 percent of adults in the nation attended a church service in the wake of the attack.

Within weeks, however, church attendance fell back to its usual 42 percent, according to Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup group.

The Christian Times in El Cajon, Calif., reported that pre- and post-attack statistics concerning those who professed personal faith in Christ were identical at 68 percent. In a November New York Times report, Newport was quoted as saying that his group found no “great awakening or profound change in America’s religious practices.” Barna said the church squandered its opportunity to impact the nation for Christ.

The American Atheists, an organization dedicated to debunking the “myth” of God, gloated that the “slight bump” in attendance had not produced a more religious American public.

The group cited a study by the Graduate Center of the University of New York that said some 29.4 million Americans had “no religion” even after Sept. 11. The number represented a 6 percent increase in the irreligious since 1990.

Did countless millions fall upon the altar of religion but not at the feet of Christ?

I, for one, think so. I have never claimed to fully understand theodicy, or the justice and suffering that God sends or allows, but I know that it can be punitive, educating and motivating. I will not presume to claim whether Sept. 11 was an example of punitive suffering, but I cannot rule out that possibility.

Our nation has the highest murder rate in the world, has turned justice on its head and allows between 1.3 and 1.7 million abortions a year. Corporate CEOs worship at the altar of greed and brazen pedophiles abduct and murder our children. The nation might deserve judgment. Either way, thousands of innocents suffered.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said, “We have wakened a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve.”

The church would be remiss if Sept. 11 was an alarm meant to arouse a sleeping giant and it chose to remain snug under the blanket of mundane church life.

The church so far has been slow to stir. While a few committed souls have thrown themselves into disaster work, evangelism and counseling, others have allowed culture to dictate the “Christian” response to the events of Sept. 11 by placing faith in Christ on par with Islam. “We worship the same God,” they want us to say.

To do so is blasphemy of the highest degree.

Over the past year I have thought on many occasions about the morning of Sept. 11. Etched indelibly into my memory is the fact that my daughter slept comfortably in her bed while the world around her rushed headlong into an age of terror. She awakened to find her comfortable surroundings and childhood toys as they were when she drifted off to sleep the night before. She proceeded with “business as usual.”

Has the church continued to do the same? I hope not, and if it has, I pray that the Lord will rouse us from our slumber. Time will tell.
Tomlin is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • Gregory Tomlin