Today we remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Smoke billowing from the Trade Center towers; their sudden collapse; the Pentagon on fire; the wreckage in a Pennsylvania field.
Remembering is a really central theme in scripture. “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9). All those commands to write it on your foreheads, inscribe it on the door post, teach your children these things. And of course there is the Lord’s supper, in which we are urged to remember. Forgetfulness was viewed by saints before us as something very dangerous. It is vital we remember.
But for what purpose? Why pause today and recall the nightmare of twelve years ago?
There is something you must understand about human nature – we just want life to be good. Nearly all our energies, every day, are spent trying to make life good. But of course – we were made for Eden; we were made for life to be good. This part of our nature is completely understandable. The problem is this – we do not live in Eden; that is not the chapter of the story we are living in. We live in a world at war; we live in a larger story that is far more urgent and noble and startling than “making life good.” And this is the other part of human nature we must understand – we just don’t want to face all that. We want to find some way to numb ourselves out of the present reality and re-create some level of the pleasures of Eden. We just want life to be good.
I was thinking about Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World, a futuristic novel written in 1931. In that future world (which now looks more and more familiar) there is a drug called “soma” which is used to keep the people numbed to the realities around them. And the people crave it. They want to be numbed. This is that part of human nature we must be also aware of. How ironic that when I checked the BBC News website this morning, right next to the report on 9/11 was an ad – equal in size to the article – for Pottery Barn and some pillow sale. When I clicked on the article itself, a new ad appeared next to it, running down the entire right side of the page, selling retirement planning for those who want to be “comfortable.” Right next to the article on 9/11.
Do you see it?! Soma. Numb me. I don’t want to face reality. I just want life to be good.
And that is why we are commanded, hundreds and hundreds of times throughout the Bible, to remember. We must continually be re-awakened from our sleepwalking.
A friend sent me an email last week. She’s teaching the high school Bible class at her local Christian school. She wanted permission to use excerpts from Waking the Dead because, as she put it, “I’m really trying to pound home the understanding that they are living in a ‘world at war’ and nothing will make sense until they get that!”
You live in a world at war. Nothing will make sense until you get that. Not Syria, or Sandy Hook, or 9/11.
Remembering brings us back to reality; breaks the spell of “I just want life to be good.” It invites us up into the story of God, invites us to take our role in a much greater purpose, to join him in his battle against evil and in bringing Jesus Christ – the only solution to this broken planet. Soon a day will come when life will be good. Till then, we must remember, or we’ll be numbed by forgetfulness and sedated by that baser part of our nature that just doesn’t want to face reality.
Jesus said nothing about pillows and comfortable retirement. He launched the invasion of the Kingdom of God into a world held by darkness. He invites us to join him in living in that startling, dangerous and beautiful story. And so we remember.