How Does One Explain the Events of September 11, 2001 to a Child?

Keri is a member of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Roselle, Illinois. This article was written as a 2002 Protestant Reformed Scholarship essay.

The teacher sits at her desk in the early morning of September 11, 2001, waiting for her third grade boys and girls to arrive at school. She thinks of the events that had just transpired, of the shock and horror she felt hearing that two planes had been hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, a plane had struck the Pentagon, and another had crashed in Pennsylvania killing all aboard. This day would be written in her class’ history books. It would be a day that the world would never forget, a day in which thousands had lost their lives, loves, and hopes, and a day in which God had declared His sovereignty that He is our all in all. She felt the pressure of her unusual task as a teacher, to explain these terrible events to her class. Parents had entrusted this task to her. But how would she explain an evilness that might change the world forever to these little boys and girls? There was only one way. She must tell them of God’s greatness, His purpose, and His amazing, everlasting faithfulness toward His people.

As the teacher waits for her class, a familiar event comes to mind, the story of The Tower of Babel, a period of history similar in many ways to the world now. Men, focused on themselves, their abilities, and their happiness, had decided to build a tower “that would reach to the heavens” to prove to God that they did not need Him. God had confounded their language, destroyed their tower, and shown them that without Him they could do nothing. Throughout history God had revealed His power to man countless times. This morning God had reinforced to us His control of our lives and our constant need of Him. She would tell her class that man was unable to stop the terrorist from taking over the plane and from crashing into the towers. He could not keep the buildings up or put out the fire, and he could not save all the thousands of people caught in the buildings. Oh yes, man had tried. He thought he had built the towers with sturdiness to resist the blow of the planes, with emergency exits, and firemen just around the corner. But it was God’s will that this destruction had happened and man was unable to change God’s will. Psalm 77: 9 came to her mind: “Hath God forgotten to be gracious, hath he in his anger shut up His tender mercies?” She continued reading and found her answer in verses 13 and 14: “Who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God who doeth wonders.” She would tell her class how despite the enormous devastation, sadness, and death, that God’s power was greater than these things.

She pictured Peter, always talking and full of questions. He would ask, “Are we safe in America?” She would reply that yes, God has blessed us with a strong country, government, and military. “Are we going to have a war?” She would answer that these events were an act of war against the United States. Right now we are unsure of who these terrorists are. That, she would reassure them, we will find out in a couple days. President Bush and Vice President Chaney are figuring that out as we talk. Others would begin raising their hands. “Why would someone willingly take over a plane, crash it, and kill themselves?” She would respond by telling them how the wicked believe their works will get them to heaven. For them, as terrible as it was, flying planes into the World Trade Center was a “good work” and would give them eternal life. She would remind them that without the one, true God, man had no hope.

Peter would have another question. “Why would God do this?” She would respond by reading the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, which speaks of God’s almighty presence, that all things came not by chance, but by His hand. God was teaching us to be patient in the hard times, thankful for the good times, and in all times put our trust in Him continually. It was our calling as Christians to trust in Him for everything. By trusting in Him, we glorified Him. This was our calling in life.

Mary and Seth would sit silently at their desks, fear in their eyes. The teacher would gently ask Mary what she was thinking. “Is this the end of the world?” Mary might ask. The teacher would then take her class to Matthew 24:6 where Christ, speaking of the end times, said: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that ye be not troubled, for all these thing must come to pass…” She would tell her students that this day, these events, these murders and deaths, had to happen before Christ could return to take us to glory to be with Him eternally. This was God’s purpose for our lives, to bring us with Him into heavenly glory. We do not know the path that God would have us take. We do not know the pain that we might suffer for Him before we reach heaven. But we can rest assured that through faith nothing can separate us from His love through Christ Jesus, our Lord. She would once again take them to the Scriptures in I Corinthians 15:24, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father… For He must reign, tell he hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death… And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.”

The classroom is now full of boys and girls reporting to each other what they had heard. Some looked frightened, others sad; some wanted to talk, others silent. The teacher slowly walks to the front of the room. With a silent prayer for extra strength to meet each child’s needs, she begins to speak. “Boys and girls, this morning God has again proved to us His everlasting faithfulness.”