This day will always be marked by the same image: the Twin Towers are burning, smoke spiraling into the clear blue sky over Manhattan, and the world as we know it is about to change forever.
Two months after that horrific morning in 2001, President George W. Bush stated: “Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.”
His words are just as relevant today as they were nineteen years ago.
“You sit still and trust the engineer”
Today is painfully significant for another reason as well: it was six months ago today that the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. On March 11, there were over 118,000 cases of coronavirus around the world. As of this morning, that number stands at more than 28 million, with global deaths exceeding 900,000.
On days like today, it is good to remember that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). The God who “determines the number of the stars” and “gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4) is the same God who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (v. 3).
His word assures us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This is because “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). In the meantime, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
I have long admired and often quoted Corrie ten Boom’s observation that, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
If a Holocaust survivor whose sister died in a concentration camp could trust the Engineer, so can I.
“People who are making things better”
Here’s a second biblical fact worth remembering on this difficult day: God not only comforts us in suffering, he uses those who suffer to comfort those who suffer.
A Wired article profiles “This Year’s WIRED25: People Who Are Making Things Better.” Unsurprisingly, the technology magazine focused on technologists along with doctors, politicians, media figures, CEOs, and entertainers.
Here’s what I found missing: not a single religious leader made the list.
In Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, historian David Christian seeks to tell the story of the universe in its entirety from its beginning to the present. However, he notes: “Unlike many traditional origin stories, the modern origin story lacks a creator god, though it has energies and particles as exotic as the pantheons of many traditional origin stories. Like the origin stories of Confucianism or early Buddhism, the modern story is about a universe that just is. Any sense of meaning comes not from the universe, but from us humans.”
Anniversaries like today show us the impossibility of such a secular quest.
Humans fly planes into buildings. Humans die from viruses they did not know existed a few months ago. Leaders such as those profiled by Wired can make our lives better, but they cannot give us what we need most: hope for the present and for eternity that only God offers.
The people who are truly “making things better” are those who point us to such hope. They are “wounded healers,” beggars telling other beggars where they found bread.
They know that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). And they testify with the psalmist, “I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Psalm 73:28).
Whom will you comfort in affliction today?
“The sea remains the sea”
Let’s close on this somber day with this encouraging prayer by Henri Nouwen:
Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: “It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.” You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same.
Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love . . .
O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.