Rediscovering the September 11 Scriptures

Paul de Vries portrait
Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist. |

This Sunday, September 11, is the 15th remembrance of the awful terror attacks on the World Trade Center. In each of our lives much has happened in these past fifteen years since that terrible morning, but it is good to go back to recall some of what we learned at that time. In particular, what Bible passages were especially significant in our personal and leadership roles here in New York City, my town?

What comes to mind especially strongly are three great Scripture passages that helped give us all

1. both comfort and courage

2. both peace and purpose

3. both community and unifying confession.

Personally, I still vividly recall the numerous, multilevel experiences of 9/11 — as a grateful parent of one whose life was saved by listening to the Lord's voice to him personally not to go to the Twin Towers on September 11 [see here], as a ministry leader seeking further to empower and encourage other Godly leaders and also the people of every community, and also as a person intensely devoted to the Lord, passionately seeking both to serve other leaders and their communities and to honor God throughout.

Evangelical churches and ministries of the NYC region were immediately united in purpose, and we quickly established "Network-NYC." I was one of the chief organizers and was appointed Director of Counseling and Counselor Training. During the following few months we provided multiple intensive training opportunities in every borough. We equipped over 3,000 crisis counselors and victim-relief ministers with essential tools for caring for others and resources for affirming God's Presence.

As I look back now, hundreds of Bible passages were especially powerful sources of healing and hope — both for all the people needing care and for those of us who were also the "care-givers."

The proper answer to the question "What Scriptures helped us after 9/11?" is simply "The whole Bible!"

Nevertheless, here are three awesome passages from the Hebrew Scriptures that especially stand out as tremendous, transformative sources of the high octane spiritual fuel and the divine healing comfort that we leaders all needed so dearly in the weeks and months immediately after September 11, 2001:

Psalm 23 — for its expressions of trust in the Lord's powerful healing care and personal Presence.

Witnessing 3,000 horrific deaths and the unspeakable hate from the Islamic terrorists and their movement, only the Lord's personal Presence and care were able to restore us. We especially noted that the key to not being afraid in the Valley of the Shadow of Death is God's awesome, vibrant Presence.

That Divine Presence is so personally vivid that in the middle of speaking to us about God's gracious Presence in verse 4, the psalmist then dramatically turns to God and says "because You are with me." This is one of my favorite "You-turns"! And that literal Divine Presence mattered deeply right after 9/11, and it still matters.

Jeremiah 29: 7-11 — for its teaching to empower Godly living and thriving, especially in our new alien, hostile circumstances.

Along with the annihilation of the mammoth Twin Towers, our hearts were shattered, too. Nevertheless, renewed commitments to the Lord's peace and plans gave us the redeeming Divine application and purpose we needed.

Tragically, most translations of the Scriptures do us a disservice by dumbing-down the use of Shalom in verses 7 and 11. Shalom means peace with God, peace with other people, health, prosperity, welfare, and more. For translations to weakly use "welfare" or "prosperity" in the place of Shalom is a huge mistake!

By God's grace, our wonderful opportunity is to work for the Shalom of the City, and to pray for the City's Shalom, because its Shalom will become our own Shalom, too. This commitment to Shalom-action-and-prayer is why we also know with confidence that the Lord's plans for us are for Shalom and not for evil, as verse 11 so memorably states.

Daniel 9:1-24 — for its vivid reminder that even if we may not feel personally especially guilty, honest confessions for sins are always in place.

Most of us rejected the claims of some preachers that New York City was more evil than other American cities and thus especially deserving of the attacks. However, Daniel's splendid example in this passage taught us that confession of sin and humility before the Lord was still utterly proper and timely — especially for seriously committed spiritual leaders.

As Evangelical leaders frequently gathered immediately after 9/11, we repeatedly noted that even the exemplary Daniel — devoted to God, faithful, and courageous — confessed his and his community's sins. In the text, Daniel confessed sin 12 different times, by 12 different ways, in just the 12 verses from Daniel 9:5-16 — and then two more times in 9:20 and 9:24.

Fourteen Godly, dramatic, sincere confessions of sin are stated here from the holy Prophet Daniel. Moreover, we noted that while throughout the rest of the book of Book of Daniel God is referenced numerous times, and with various titles, only in this exemplary prayer of confession by Daniel in chapter 9 does he use God's personal name YHWH (translated as "the LORD" in English). Perhaps in our sincere confessions of sin, our personal connection with living God is especially nurtured.

Now, fifteen years later, the Lord still speaks to us through the whole Bible, including these three intensely relevant passages of Scripture.

What differences can these sacred texts make to each of our lives now in 2016 — and going forward? Why do we need to "read and heed" these great texts again? How will our lives and service to others be better when we do? How can we all honor the Lord and live more in the joy of the Lord — even more now?

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. He is a specialist in Biblical hermeneutics and ethics and a life-long advocate of Biblical activism.

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