On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, as the nation and the world remember the horrible events of that day, Christians look once again to the promises of God. As then, they are what we as Christian people hold on to. They are what we wrap our arms around, the promises we stand upon. Most especially, we rely on the promise of God to be with us always come what may, to walk with us through the hard valleys of life, and to bring us to the mountaintop on the other side. So when we are under attack as individuals, as a church family, or as a nation, that’s what we do. We keep walking forward, one day at a time, knowing that God will always be with us, and God will see us through.
Now, let me be more specific with three thoughts.
First of All,
Because God Is with Us,
We Walk in Faith, Not Fear
That Tuesday morning, as I sat at my desk and watched the television news unfold this horrible, tragic nightmare that set our world reeling and broke our hearts, all kinds of questions flooded my mind:
Why did this happen?
How could this happen?
Who could do a thing like this?
What does this mean?
Who is responsible?
How do we respond?
How can we help?
All these questions were tugging at my heart, when suddenly my mind darted back to a poignant story of courage. It was the story of a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son. Home from the cemetery on the day of her funeral, they went to bed as soon as darkness came because there was nothing else that man could think of that he could bear to do. As the young man lay in the darkness, brokenhearted, grief-stricken, numb with sorrow, the little boy broke the stillness from his bed with a heart-wrenching question: “Daddy, where is Mommy? When is she coming back?”
The father tried to get the boy to go to sleep, but the questions kept coming from his confused child’s mind. After a while, the father brought the little boy to bed with him. But the child was still disturbed and restless, and the probing, painful questions kept coming. Finally, the little boy reached out his hand through the darkness and placed it on his father’s face, asking, “Daddy, is your face toward me?” Assured verbally and by his own touch that his father’s face was indeed toward him, the little boy said, “Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep.” And in a little while, he was quiet.
The father lay in the darkness, and then he, with child-like faith, lifted up his own needy heart to his Father in heaven and prayed something like this: “O God, the way is dark right now, and I confess that I don’t see my way through; but if your face is toward me, somehow I think I can make it.”
This is our faith, isn’t it? God is with us. His face is toward us, and his presence supports us when we have nowhere else to turn. As the American author and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
That’s number one: Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear.
Because God Is with Us,
We Walk in Hope, Not Despair
Late in the evening a few days after September 11, I was watching television. Someone was interviewing a young man who had survived the World Trade Center attack. He had worked in the south tower. He told of how someone had come to his floor of the building and shouted, “Something bad has happened in the north tower! Everybody out! Get out as fast as you can!”
He started down the stairs. As he reached the lower floors, the second plane rammed into his building. The young man was knocked to the floor, all the lights went out, and there was smoke.
He had no idea what had happened, but he knew he needed to get out of there. However, in the darkness, he became confused, disoriented, and terrified. He was holding on to the wall in the blackness.
Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was a policeman. The policeman said, “Follow me. I know the way out.” And the policeman took his hand and led him to safety. In the interview, the young man said, “You can’t imagine the incredible relief I felt when that policeman said, ‘Follow me. I know the way out.’”
This is what the Christian gospel says to us: “Here is One who knows the way out—the way to safety and life. Here is One who can save you, and that is our hope.” Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear, and we walk in hope, not despair.
Third and Finally,
Because God Is with Us,
We Walk in Love, Not Hate
Everything about the September 11 attack was horrendous. The most despicable aspect of that evil assault was that it was a heartless, surprise attack on innocent people, a hateful, cruel attack on innocent civilians who were going about their daily routines with no place to take cover and no way to defend themselves. We were outraged by this hateful act, and our hearts cried out for justice; indeed, the leaders of our nation and our world began working together immediately to this end.
When people join together and commit a terrible crime, what do we do? We find those people and deal with them in such a way that they cannot strike again. That is justice. Our God is a God of justice and love. God wants us to be a people of justice and love. So we must resist the temptation to stereotype and label whole nations, peoples, and religions as guilty, because when we do that, we make the same mistake—morally speaking—as those who attacked us on September 11. They attacked us because somebody had carefully taught them to hate.
At noon on the Friday after the attacks, our church congregation gathered in the sanctuary for the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. I asked them to walk through the hard valley lying before us while holding on to two symbols—the eagle and the cross. Our nation chose the eagle as its symbol because it is the only bird not afraid of the storm. The cross is the great symbol of our Christian faith because it reminds us of the power of love, and it reminds us of God’s victory over sin and evil and death.
That is why we can be courageous. That is why we need not be afraid. That is why we can face the troubles of the world with strength and confidence and with trust in God. Because God speaks not from an easy chair, but from a cross—as One who suffered and endured the worst the world can dish out and was victorious over it! That’s what the cross means: God wins! God’s goodness cannot be defeated. God’s truth cannot be silenced. God’s love cannot be defeated. It is stronger than hate.
That’s the good news: Ultimately God wins, and he wants to share the victory with us. So, because God is with us, we go forward. Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear. We walk in hope, not despair. We walk in love, not hate.