“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” 2 Cor. 4:16-17
In much the same way that an older generation remembers where they were when JFK died, many of us remember where we were on 9/11.
At the time I was an attorney with a company that had offices throughout the country. We watched the television as the Twin Towers evaporated against a clear-blue sky, wondering if anyone we knew just lost their lives. (Later we learned that some of our employees working at a client’s office did die in one of the towers.) We spent the rest of that day tracking down employees who were traveling to make sure they were safe, and arranging rental cars for them to drive back to Arkansas due to the nationwide suspension of air travel.
War came to America on 9/11. The first combatants in this new war were airline employees and passengers. Firefighters and police officers joined their ranks soon afterwards. “When others ran out of the buildings, they ran in.” And in the weeks and years that followed, hundreds of thousands of men and women in our armed forces put themselves in harm’s way as instruments of God’s common grace to defeat evil in this world. Flag-draped coffins and wounded warriors bear witness to their valor. Lest we forget, the war still continues and their numbers steadily increase.
Eighteen years later, 9/11 has changed us. While our nation has always known conflict and often experienced tragedy, since September 11 we feel more vulnerable. Before, we were fortress America. Now we live with the fear that maybe it could happen again. Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris, etc. all bear witness to the fact that we are not as safe as we once thought. Many wonder if we will ever return to the “normal” of pre-9/11.
“So we do not lose heart…”
Ground Zero has recovered since 9/11. It’s no longer the smoldering heaps of mangled steel that we saw in late 2001. Today it’s brimming with life. All around the site you see the hopeful determination of New Yorkers to reclaim their city from the destruction caused by evil men who flew airplanes into buildings. In place of the destroyed towers, new buildings now soar high into the skyline of lower Manhattan.
Throughout the memorial plaza where the towers once stood, dozens of trees have been planted. All of them are swamp white oaks, except for one pear tree. That one pear tree has become known as the “survivor tree.” It was originally planted at the plaza in the 1970’s and was all but destroyed in the 9/11 attack. A broken and burned 8-foot mess, it was taken to a nursery in the Bronx where it was slowly restored to health. Today the tree has grown to a height of over thirty feet. Yet it still bears the scars of that awful day. When I visited the site a few years ago, I could not take my eyes off of it. In spite of its scars, or maybe because of them, I thought the tree was beautiful.
In so many ways we are each like that survivor tree. The evil of this world has left us a broken and burnt mess. Some of that evil was done by us and some of it was done to us. Regardless, without the tender touch of the master gardener, we will perish. But his loving grace does heal us and restore us.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul encourages the church at Corinth, and us today, to not lose heart. And then in verse 17 he assures us that whatever is happening today that troubles us is light in comparison to the beautiful glory of God that we behold through our faith in the Gospel. What Paul is saying is that our suffering and losses prepare us for something better.
Through the grace of God, suffering is redemptive. God takes the bad and makes it something glorious. Our security then is not in avoiding bad things. Who can do that in a fallen world? Our security is God’s plan for redemption through the Gospel that has been accomplished by Christ and guaranteed for us by the Holy Spirit.
In Revelation 21:5, Jesus promises that he is making “all things new.” New in this context isn’t new in the sense of first coming into existence. Instead, new means that its qualities are so different than what it was like before that it has indeed become “new.” It is this transformation that glorifies God because we remember what a sad state it was in before. And that is what the Gospel does: Glorifying God through the redemption and restoration of a creation damaged by the Fall.
As we remember 9/11 and honor those who lost their lives on that day and since, my prayer is that we will not lose heart, but instead know that in the middle of a world broken and bleeding from the Fall, God’s promises are still true, that in Christ we are forever secure and always kept by the Holy Spirit, and that no loss we suffer is ever wasted in the economy of God. All of it will eventually bring him glory and be a gracious instrument for our transformation.