It seems we’ve arrived—that moment when we can definitely acknowledge understanding and claim a cognitive victory over the once unknown. I’m talking about 9/11. Now on the seventh anniversary of the tragic, deadly attacks—we remember… by declaring victory. The documentaries of a dozen channels have moved from the now too-familiar footage of the collapsing World Trade Centers…to explaining—all explaining: why one building fell sooner than the other, why the planes disintegrated on impact, why the black box at the Pentagon was found near the nose, why, why, whywhywhywhy. We are good at explaining.
And we are good at explaining away. As such, we become victims of a false sense of self-security which creeps into our living. It is almost as though when—having explained, having found satisfactory (though never complete) understanding—we become the exception. Consequences need not apply. Explanation has set us free.
Have you ever noticed that it is the people who regularly smoke who know the statistics about lung cancer better than anyone (just look at the nurses lined up on the sidewalk at St. John’s hospital along Ballas Road)? How it’s the guys who actively trade stocks that take the biggest risks—believing somehow that their “experience” and their “knowledge” make them immune to the dangers of excessive loses.
Enron, K-Mart, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Freddy Mac, Fanny Mae. Most of the leaders in these collapses or corruptions (or both) made the same (wrong) judgment calls as people before them—believing, somehow, they were different, exempt. That some secret knowledge or “insiders’ insight” would protect them from the law, bankruptcy, ridicule, and prison. Then there are the pastors who sacrifice the entirety of their families, reputations, ministries, and vocations. There are the union workers who entrench themselves into a work-ethic of complacency. And there are the democratic nations that embark upon socialistic and fascist pathways. “We’ve studied the past. We understand it. We have a secret knowledge. And we will avoid those consequences.”
Ironically, Western nations thought they understood what gave birth to the Great War and so—in that time between wars—they made decisions with improved “knowledge” and heightened “insight” that offered certain confidence in the prevention of future such happenings. Less than a generation later, another great war ravaged the world. NASA, having studied the destruction of the Challenger, took steps to ensure it would not happen again…until the Discovery exploded on landing. On the same day that I watched the “9/11 Documentary” on why we are better prepared, I heard report of a study that found the US almost unchanged in its preparedness against biological and chemical attack as on September 11, 2001.
As with all pride born from knowledge, naming, and discovery—we forget what matters most: The children who are growing up without parents killed in the 9/11 attacks. The husbands and wives who lost their partner. The parents who lost children. The friends who lost friends. The nation…that lost its ability to reflect long on the cry for deliverance. The cry—that died so soon after the attacks—for deliverance, for salvation, for…God.
Today is like that first 9/11—the weather and the world, I mean. The only thing missing is the silence—the silence born from confusion, unanswered questions, sadness, fears. And from the humility that comes with the momentary reflection that knowledge, information, and understanding cannot deliver us, cannot defend us, cannot save.
Seven years later, there is no room for silence. We have filled up all the silent places with explanations, comforted with the self-certain belief that our knowledge will makes us exempt, safe. John Bright might have said it this way, “We are a self-saved people and oh, how we love our savior.” Or in the words of Pogo, “We have seen the savior, and he is us.”