On September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists murdered 2,977 Americans. According to Brown University’s Watson Institute, warfare in the years since has killed 13,816 U.S. military personnel and contractors. The civilian death count in Iraq and Afghanistan stands between 184,500 and 212,500. The “War on Terror” has cost Americans more than $4.4 trillion. Imagine the impact that expenditure could make on hunger or education.
In another sense, however, 9/11 revealed a war that has been waged against the U.S. for decades. On November 4, 1979, radical Muslims took fifty-two American citizens hostage in Iran. In the years since, jihadists have attacked our embassies in Beirut, Kuwait, Kenya, Tanzania, Lima, Kurachi, and Libya. They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and the Boston Marathon in 2013. Their numbers and global reach are greater than ever before.
Now the self-proclaimed Islamic State has captured land the size of Great Britain, claims greater than $2 billion in assets, generates $2 million per week in oil revenues, and boasts a fighting force of up to 100,000 soldiers. They have more than 35 global affiliates, and intend to conquer Europe and then America. ISIS spokesman Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
What lessons have we learned in the years since 9/11?
One: The Department of Homeland Security cannot secure the homeland. It is just too easy to enter a country whose borders exceed 5,830 miles, not to mention terrorists such as the Boston Marathon bombers who are already here. Mass shootings in schools, shopping malls and movie theaters prove that we can never be truly safe on this fallen planet.
Two: This is the war of our lifetime. Unlike conventional wars with leaders who could surrender to us, this enemy has no single head. So long as one jihadist is left, the threat is not over. Henry Kissinger noted, “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”
Three: Fearing terrorism is just what the terrorists want. We need to take all appropriate measures to secure ourselves and our families, then live with courage and passion. Claim this promise: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Trust your fears to God in faith.
Four: This is a spiritual war. Our enemy is motivated by religious aims and has been deceived by the evil one. The gospel is the true answer to radical Islam. The spiritual awakening sweeping the Muslim world is our greatest hope. Praying for ISIS leaders and other jihadists is the church’s greatest responsibility.
On the Sunday after 9/11, I preached from Psalm 46. Its first assertion is our Father’s assurance on this somber day: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). But a refuge can shelter only those who trust its protection.
Would God say he is your refuge today?