Sunday, September 11, 2016

Can We Still Hope?

September 11, 2016

It's been fifteen years. Most of my grandkids cannot remember the attack that changed our world forever. They have no recollection of the Twin Towers, or of the cowardly and murderous assault upon the innocent people who went to work that morning, never to return home again. They cannot recall images of those same towers, collapsing in a cloud of dust and debris, nor of the gaping hole in the wall of the Pentagon or the huge furrow plowed into the field in Western Pennsylvania. America was given a flesh and blood introduction to jihad that Tuesday fifteen years ago, and those of us who are old enough to remember can recall exactly where we were when we first heard the news. We were mesmerized by the video footage of that second plane plowing into the South Tower, shooting a ball of fire out the other side. In spite of ourselves, we watched over and over the collapse of the towers, hoping that somehow it was all just a television fiction instead of the horrific reality it in fact was.

We were brought together as a nation that day. With the exception of a few conspiracy theorists and those in our midst who either openly or secretively support radical Islam, we came together in shock, sorrow, anger, and determination. As is too often the case however, we began to squabble over what to do with the space left after the cleanup, we bickered over what health benefits were owed to the first responders, and we saw our nation's leaders refuse to acknowledge the expressed motivation behind this and subsequent attacks. Today we are divided.

How can we be thankful in light of these events? Some would say that even to think of gratitude under such circumstances is an affront to those who died that day fifteen years ago, and to the many who have since given their lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and half a dozen other countries in the Middle East. But the alternative to gratitude is despair, and yielding that ground can be fatal to a nation and to the individuals in it.

In the sixth century B.C., the city of Jerusalem was overrun by the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah was an eyewitness of the fall of the city, and composed a lament over its destruction. He chronicles the brutality of the conquering armies as they raped, pillaged, smashed babies' skulls against walls, ripped fetuses from pregnant women, while they leveled the city. In the midst of what was to that date the worst holocaust the Jewish people had ever experienced, what possibly might there be for which to give thanks? Through his tears, Jeremiah found what he was looking for.

In the third chapter of the poem he penned, he wrote these words:

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD."
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

Jeremiah doesn't minimize the anguish of his people, but neither does he forget the only hope he can find in what is otherwise a despairing situation. "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Tonight I give thanks that we are not consumed. God loves us still, and evidence of his compassion is all around us, if we will look for it. Every morning we wake to a new day, with the opportunity to experience God's faithfulness. We may have to wait for it, but if we hope in God, if we seek him, his goodness is there, waiting to be discovered.

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