“9/11 traced new spiritual lines,” according to an article on this morning’s USA Today website. Is America a more spiritual nation as a result of the worst terrorist attack in our history? Yes and no, it seems.
On the positive: the religious have apparently become more religious. A Pew Research poll in December 2001 found that those who said they prayed or worshiped more after 9/11 were people who were already the most religious. Denominational leaders have begun new efforts at interfaith dialogue, seeking to lessen religious tensions.
And religious is much more discussed in our culture than it was before. Pricilla Warner of Larchmont, N.Y, home of many 9/11 victims and survivors, says, “September 11 brought God out of the closet.” She adds, “Today, people are screaming about God, whispering about God, thinking about God. No one will say now that religion is not something to be discussed.”
On the negative: those who were not religious have apparently remained so. The Barna Group states that the number of “unchurched” people in America (those who have not attended a church service or event other than a wedding or funeral in the last six months) has increased from 24% in 1991 to 37% in 2011. Two days after 9/11, the church I pastored in Dallas was filled with more than 2,000 people from our community as we gathered for an interdenominational prayer service. Two Sundays later, attendance was back to normal.
A crisis doesn’t make character—it reveals it. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was right: “Difficulties show men what they are.” Lord Byron agreed: “Adversity is the first path to truth.” A rainstorm washes away topsoil but exposes bedrock.
What storms are you weathering this morning? Perhaps a familiar story will help. The disciples were battling a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee which “buffeted” (the Greek word is literally “tortured”) their boat and threatened their lives. When Jesus walked on the stormy sea to them, they cowered in fear, terrified by this spectral apparition. At Jesus’ invitation, Peter braved the howling winds and crashing waves and began walking on the water toward his Lord. When he took his eyes from the Savior to the storm, he began to sink. In desperation, he cried the shortest prayer in the Bible, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). And Jesus did.
Are you clinging to a boat of fleeting security this morning? Are you sinking beneath the waves of stress and fear? Or are you focused on the One who calms stormy seas and souls? When Peter cried to him, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him” (v. 31). Won’t he do the same for you?