Another September 11 has arrived. It is amazing how the nature of a date on the calendar can change. I was on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on September 11, 2001 when 19 hi-jackers orchestrated an evil plot to destroy as many US high profile targets as they could. Like everyone else, I was glued to the TV in horror and a pleasant vacation suddenly turned into something different.
I feel like the USA is a much different place in the aftermath of 9/11. No brilliant insight there I suppose. But I am not really talking about the obvious differences like increased security checks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am referring to something more subtle. Some of these subtle changes may be directly attributable to 9/11 and others may just be coincidental.
I have noticed a sharp increase in two “-isms,” and neither is really a change for the better. I sense an America that is more prone to cynicism and fatalism than I can ever recall. The cynicism conveys as, “who can we really trust?” Can we trust the government to fulfill its primary task, protect its citizens? Can we trust people of other cultures or religious viewpoints? Can we trust the press to tell the truth or will we get a version of the truth run through whatever ideological or politically correct filter that may be in place? Can we trust each other, and what motivates our political, social, and ideological opponents?
Closely related to all this cynicism is its cousin: fatalism. Welcome to a new fatalistic America. It might as well be our religion now. The definition of fatalism is: 1) The belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. 2) A submissive attitude to events, resulting from such a belief. Fatalism tells us that we “cannot.” We cannot overcome our dysfunctional circumstance, we cannot fix our economy, we cannot change the world for the better. We are just helpless driftwood riding the tides wherever they take us.
As a pastor, when reading those definitions, I shudder. Man has free will and sometimes he uses that free will to do evil things, (see the 19 terrorists on 9/11 for example). But that is history. The thing about America’s new religiously zealous fascination with fatalism that concerns me is the implications for today and tomorrow, and for the “spiritual life” of America in general. The worst thing about fatalism is that is makes God small. He is either ineffective, or He is just a watcher. Wrong on both counts!
Because we have free will, we also have the chance to choose to do the right thing today. To cry out to a loving God today for help. To ask a powerful God today to use us to change tomorrow. We once believed America could do anything. We can feed our poor! We can protect our borders! We can innovate, re-build infrastructure, create, grow, and even get along. I run into very few people who talk or think that way any longer. I am convinced that the foundation of that “can do” belief was really a belief that “God can do anything!” But what do we believe about God now?
I am not a fatalist, because I think God is bigger and more active and involved than we can imagine. I believe He is anxiously searching for a people who will turn to Him with their whole heart. A people who will obey Him with a humble heart, and believe Him with a passionate perseverance.
After generations of war, abandonment, despair, persecution, and captivity, Nehemiah discovered that the God of his forefathers did still care. He did still change hearts and build cities and care about the integrity of his Name. God sent Nehemiah back to a destroyed Jerusalem to begin a re-building project. I love the prayer of confession that ignited the days of renaissance as recorded in Nehemiah 9:6. The beginning of the prayer is, “You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all the starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you!” I still have great hope for America, because I still believe in a God who can give life to everything!
And the truth shall set you free!