Twin Towers & Terrible Tuesday
Over 4000 years ago the people in Lower Mesopotamia resolved, like Enoch earlier, to build a city to consolidate their influence and control over the population. This city would have its own monumental ziggaraut or temple tower which will reach high into the sky. The motive of the builders is pride and defiance of God. The tower will be a giant advertisement for the human ego. As the Bible records it, the story of the tower explains the nature of the civilisation that built it. Their desire is not simply brotherhood and unity but the notion that these can be achieved on earth without God and in opposition to him. In effect they suppose that they can reach up to God’s throne and access the power and authority of heaven and use it for their own glory. So they called the place Babel, gate of God. However, God laughed at their plans, confused their communication with each other, and the tower was never completed. The builders called the tower Babel, “Gate of God” but, in a mocking play on words, Genesis 11:9 derives it from a word of similar sound meaning “Mixed up, Confused”. All the impressive efforts of man to defy God are ultimately confusion. The Kingdom of man will be overthrown by the Kingdom of God.
Nearly 2000 years ago a tower collapsed in Jerusalem. It was, it seems, part of the old defence system on the city walls near the pool of Siloam on the south-east part of the city. Eighteen people were killed in the accident. They didn’t realise the dangerous state of the tower; no one warned them, and so they perished. It was not a political incident, a deliberate act, but just an accident, as we would say. Those eighteen people were not singled out for special punishment but their death was a reminder to others not to ignore the Gospel or disaster would come upon them too. As Jesus put it, “I tell you…unless you repent you will all perish too” (Luke 13:4).
A few days ago the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York collapsed in the aftermath of the most horrific act of terrorism perpetrated in the Western world in modern times. The towers had been a symbol of America’s pre-eminence. For two decades they had even been the highest buildings in the world until eclipsed by others. Their destruction was no accident but a coldly calculated and premeditated act of barbarism against ordinary people of many racial and religious backgrounds. The motivation was presumably a hatred of American foreign policy by people inside or outside the United States.
The many killed, injured, bereaved or otherwise hurt are not greater sinners than others. We can only feel great compassion for them. The sudden ending of life here is a solemn reminder that our lives too will end and an account must be given. Beyond that we cannot answer why God allowed it. We do know that the death of Jesus Christ was both a wicked act of men and part of the salvation plan of God (Acts 2:23). Our confidence in God’s sovereignty does not minimise the evil of what has been done, but assures us God works out his holy purpose so that even evil things will be for the good of those who love him.
New York is not a godly place. Its temple of wealth and power was attacked and it fell quickly. It will be good if there is some humility that flows from the tragedy. No defence shield could have protected against it. To trust in our wisdom or cleverness, our wealth and financial clout, cannot save a city or a civilisation. Unless the Lord guard a city its watchmen watch in vain (Psalm 127:1).
The perpetrators: cool, cunning people, fanatics, prejudiced by hate. The stoning of Catholic children trying to go to school in Belfast the other week is, in its own way, the same kind of thing: wickedness pure and simple. Wickedness that reveals the hollowness of the optimistic view of human nature and the accuracy of the Biblical picture.
Too often respectable Protestants have little resolve to disassociate themselves effectively from the prejudicial and contemptible. They don’t love their neighbour so much as their rights, so called. The same goes for decent Catholics who don’t disown the IRA or those Muslims who hesitate to condemn the extremists in their camp. We are stunned by the New York Attack because so many so quickly perished in such a starkly shocking way. Our hearts break for relatives who will not see their loved ones again in this life. Yet there have been bombs in Belfast and Beirut for years. Irish and Arab, Christian and Muslim, all cry.
Our political leadership in the West needs reappraisal. What is achieved by sanctions on Iraq but the poverty of its ordinary citizenry? And this is a country which certainly has many great failures but does allow Christianity – unlike Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. Is Western foreign policy dictated by pragmatism rather than principle so that it serves US financial interests rather than basic justice?
I hope they don’t rebuild the World Trade Centre, the symbol of the American way of success. Maybe Ben Franklin was right, a useful and harmless turkey would be a better symbol of the USA than the eagle, racial equality than another twin tower. They sang ‘God Bless America’ on Terrible Tuesday, but it’s not much good if there is so much of the spirit of ancient Babel in reality. Things will never be the same for the US or for Australia after Terrible Tuesday. They will be better if the tragedy leads to true spiritual renewal.