Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Gratitude, Duty, and Hope: Thoughts on September 11

No one who was old enough to take it in will ever forget September 11, 2001. We see passenger jets flying out of a clear September morning, the flashes of flame, the destruction, the death, and the valiant acts of heroism. It is well to remember and to mourn the victims this day. But let me raise the question of why we memorialize those who have sacrificed for us. Whats our object in doing so?

The answer is gratitude. As we mourn and remember the sacrifices of those who went before us, we ourselves, out of gratitude for what they did, commit ourselves to defend those values for which they diedprinciples we hold so dear: freedom and human dignity.

Gratitude: John Calvin said gratitude was at the center of the Christian life, and G. K. Chesterton called it "the mother of all virtues." It was gratitude for living in a free country that caused me to put on the uniform of a United States Marine officer during the Korean War. We do our duty to our country out of gratitude for those who went before us to defend the liberties we hold so precious.

I love the scene at the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan. Ryan, who is now seventy years old, returns to Normandy, and he is looking at the grave marker of Captain Miller, the man who died to save him during World War II. Ryan is on his knees. The grave marker is a stark, white cross. He addresses Miller, now long dead: "Ive tried every day to live up to what you did for me I hope Ive lived a life worthy of your sacrifice."

On this anniversary of the attacks, we ought to be looking at the sacrifices people made for us and asking ourselves whether we are living lives worthy of their sacrifices.

In addition to gratitude and duty, we remember because good can come out of those vicious terrorist attacks. It is, of course, a biblical principle that God works through human suffering, tragedies, and defeatssometimes to do His greatest work.

These acts of war served as a wake-up call. There was a lot of utopian discussion going on in the nineties about how Western liberal democracy had won the great ideological contest for the twentieth century. We forgot this is a dangerous world and that evil is real. Now we know better, and even the postmodernist has to agree there is evil.

And just as the great World War II generation saved the world from Hitlers evil, so this generation must become great for this moment. It is our calling to be great in defense of liberty and freedom and human rights, to defend good against evil today.

The war on terrorism is, by its nature, slow and treacherous. We must not allow ourselves to become discouraged or fatigued.

On this September 11, after looking back with gratitude, we need to look ahead. Our hope lies in our resolve to do our duty that our gratitude inspires. Our hope lies in the lessons we have learned for the future. And our hope lies in our confidence in a sovereign Godthat in the end, right will prevail, that civilization can be preserved, and that America and her allies, in defense of freedom and in opposition to evil, will triumph.

And just like that scene in Saving Private Ryan, let us also this day look at the cross as Ryan did. May we live lives worthy of the supreme sacrifice Christ made for us.

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