I wrote the following reflections on September 11, 2011 after seeing the first design images of the 9/11 memorial. This Good Friday after seeing the memorial for the first time in person, I find them as timely as ever as we reflect on the purpose of the cross.
Reflections from September 11, 2011 (on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11)
After seeing the pictures of the amazing new memorial opening in New York this Sunday in honor of those who died in the tragic events of September 11th, 10 years ago, I was struck by the vivid imagery of the water flowing into the void from all directions. I was reminded of the four rivers that once flowed into Eden, but one day even that perfect paradise became a void as a result of human sin. But in the memory of tragedy, there is always hope. For those who suffered on 9/11 or as a result of the Atomic Bomb many decades before, or any other tragedy in history, the hope remains that humanity will never again face such destruction. For all of us who live as refugees cast out of Eden, we do not simply hope that such acts of rebellion against our creator will never happen again. But God has given us a greater hope, that through the cross He has filled the void. And as the poor, widowed and orphaned are cared for, as the lame are healed, as the blind find new sight, and yes, even as the walking dead are raised from their slumber and lives are transformed by the Light, God is filling the void. And in the fullness of time, God will fill the void. In the poetic words of Matt Maher, he has "trampled over death by death." As we seek hope in the memory of tragedy this weekend, I pray the reflections below may remind us of the sure and eternal hope we have in our Heavenly Father who sacrificed His only Son to fill the void we have created by our own sin, through Jesus Christ who conquered death itself that we might live, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who works among us drawing people to the Father through the Son and not only applying the forgiveness of sin through the blood of Christ, but freeing us from the power of sin that we might live in perfect Love for God and for one another.
"Filling the Void" ~ by: Craig J. Sefa
God spoke into the void…
… And there was life! Life of every kind. Flowers, shrubs, birds, fish, reptiles, mammals… of every shape and size from delicate roses to great cedars, from the lowly sparrow to the soaring eagle, from guppies and goldfish to stingrays and whales, turtles and gators, frogs and salamanders, and from heartwarming kittens and puppies to awe-inspiring elephants, bears, and horses…
And God saw this world teaming with life and declared… “It is good…” But he didn’t stop there. Someone should be able to enjoy it. Someone should be able to enjoy him who created it all. Someone should be able to know the love through which he created and someone should be able to love him in return. And so he spoke again… into another type of void.
… For although everything he had made was good, it was incomplete. The first void God filled with life… the second void could only be filled with love, with beings who could be in relationship with one another the way the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had shared a loving relationship for eternity… beings who would not merely experience physical life, but whose hearts and souls would rejoice and thrive and find their very breath in the love of God breathed into them… beings not merely spoken into existence, but fashioned by God’s hands out of the dirt… beings created not out of the unlimited creativity that brought forth the kangaroo and the platypus, but who were fashioned in the very likeness of God himself…
We are the crowning glory who receive and share in God’s love. We filled the final void in creation. We were given a place of honor, a position of authority and responsibility over creation to bear God’s image to everything and everyone by living lives of unconditional love. And Genesis 1:31 says… it was “Very Good.”
And God created a lush and beautiful garden where we would dwell with no pain, no shame, no struggles or fear… a garden where God himself would walk with us and enjoy life with us… in person… and where the only law we needed was the law of love. Four rivers flowed into that garden and at the center stood the Tree of Life.
But there was another tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… a tree with power and knowledge reserved for God alone. For where the law of love reigns, God’s love can be trusted entirely. There is no need for us to distinguish between Good and Evil and make moral decisions because all that is in God is good. And all that existed was in God.
By eating of the fruit, we decided we’d like a say on such an important issue. “Who is God to tell me what is good… what I should and shouldn’t do? Perhaps if I knew what evil was, I could really choose good on my own and after all, wouldn’t that make God more proud of me than blindly going along with what He says just because I don’t know any other option.” Whether we chose good or evil from that point forward would be almost irrelevant. The fact that we felt the need to have such a choice… the fact that we didn’t trust that God’s goodness and love alone was all we needed, and the fact that we wanted the final say over our lives instead of answering to our loving creator… was enough to re-open the void.
And so a deep scar was made in creation that day… a scar that cut the Tree of Life, and indeed the entire garden out of our history. This scar created a void where death replaced life, where hardship and fear replaced peace and joy, and where our futile attempts to love after knowing what it meant to love only ourselves replaced the source of love that gave us life in the first place. And let us not forget the greatest void of all we created that day… those beautiful mornings when we walked in the shade enjoying God’s company would be blindingly absent. We were given creation, but God himself would no longer dwell in it with us… at least for the time being.
But the life giving waters continued to flow into the void that was once Eden, where the Tree of Life had stood. And the flowing waters crash endlessly through the rocks and fields, reminding us of the passage of time… In God’s presence, time, or a lack of time in light of eternity, meant very little, but the passage of time outside of God’s presence reminds us of the void, the emptiness, the isolation we feel in this glorious creation.
Today, the waters flow into another void. One of many voids left by one of a multitude of scars we have left upon human history. These waters flow into two deep chasms at the heart of Manhattan, the place we now know as Ground Zero. A memorial has opened to honor those whose lives were cut out of the pages of our history at the hands of those who chose evil over good. There is little need to recount the tragic events that took place ten years ago in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. A mere glimpse into the voids where two towers once stood brings back a flood of images that we hopelessly dreamed over and over again had only been a fiction out of Hollywood’s imagination.
But these images were not created in a studio. They were created by the hands of human beings, created in God’s image and loved deeply by their creator. Only these image bearers of the creator, like many of us, have long forgotten or perhaps never known the nature of the image they bear. The void throughout history has been so deep and the pit of human sin so dark that we don’t know which way to look to catch a glimpse of God’s light. We have lived in darkness for so long we have come to feel that darkness is all there is. If we are ever to walk in the light, we must create that light.
Yet our yearning for light is both strange and significant. It is strange because all we have known is darkness. From birth, we have grown up as self-centered people, doing our best to be “good”, but each having our own ideas of what “good” looks like. And almost always, “good” has something to do with the things that make us happy, or comfortable, and very little to do with the things that put others above ourselves unless meeting the needs of others happens to have some benefit for us at that moment. And so we try to create this light out of darkness. We try to make good out of what we feel is evil, only our understanding of evil is so often limited to what is “bad” for us, “inconvenient” for us, or “different” from us. And so in our attempts to bring some light into the world, as with those who sought to bring the light of their ideologies to American soil 10 years ago in New York, we are literally shooting in the dark.
We cannot create light from our darkness anymore than we can make fire from ice. Thus, it is strange that we should each think that we know what light is and how best to create it. Whether through democracy and capitalism or communism or even dictatorship, we think we are creating light. Whether through the ideals of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wiccan or Neo-paganism, Judaism or even what we know as Christianity, we think we are creating light. And among Christians, whether through the distinctiveness of Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, or even those who claim no denominational affiliation, we think we are creating light. Yet our eyes have merely adjusted to our own dark places, thinking we have a found glimpse of light because we can now see the blurry shadows of our immediate surroundings and can successfully feel our way around familiar territory.
Our attempts to create light out of our own darkness is indeed strange, but it is also significant. For how do we even know it is dark? Like the man in Plato’s cave who has seen nothing but his own shadow all his life, we cannot distinguish the people walking outside as more real than the distorted image of ourselves cast on the wall. Yet we could not even see our shadows were there not a light somewhere shining into the darkness. We strive to create our own little worlds where everyone looks like the familiar image of our own shadow, never realizing that our shadow is merely a deformed outline cast on the wall as the Light of Life shines on our backs.
Turn Around! And you will see the light. And more than that, you will see the light shining on the faces of all people of all nations and of all ideologies and creeds. And the light illuminates in their faces and in their souls the image of the Light-Giver. Interesting that Jesus’ first sermon simply declared that we should “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand” (Mark 1:15). Repent means nothing more than to “turn around and go the other direction.” Rather than continually walking toward the darkness of our shadows, trying to find warmth and love from the only moving thing we can see, we must turn around and walk into the light. There is only one source of light, and we cannot recreate it no matter how hard we try. We can only go to it, for he has invited us back into His loving arms, to be warmed by his light and comforted in His embrace.
There is another scar on human history, much like the scar at Ground Zero and the scar where Eden once bloomed. This scar, like the scar in New York, was also created by sinful human beings, deeply loved by God, but who honestly believed they were trying to preserve what little light they thought they had. The only law they knew, they believed was from God. 2000 years ago, one man stood in the way of the laws they sought so hard to uphold. This man brought a greater law, the law of unconditional love, which no one could comprehend in light of the hatred and suffering around them. And so they destroyed him, leaving a deep scar, a cross-shaped scar, eternally etched in the face of human history.
Only this scar has the power to heal all other scars. This scar bridged the chasm between us and God. This scar filled the void created when we chose to put ourselves above God and leave his presence. Through this scar, the very life-blood of God’s own Son was poured out to bring life to a dying world. And his blood flows to all people, of all time, so that they… so that we may once again walk in the Holy and Loving presence of God, our Creator. Through his blood, we have been given the right to be called sons and daughters of God.
The rivers that brought life to Eden flow into eternity. Ezekiel 47 records the vision of a river flowing from the temple where God’s presence dwelled. It flowed across the land bringing life to everything it touched. Where people had once struggled to cultivate the parched desert ground, the banks of God’s river now overflowed and every kind of tree grew along its banks providing fruit for food and healing from their leaves. John saw the same river, only it flowed not from a temple constructed by human hands designed to protect us from looking upon God’s Holiness as we worshipped in His presence, but it flowed directly from God’s throne, unimpeded to the human eye. Revelation 21:23-25 declares that there will be no night, for darkness cannot exist in the presence of God’s eternal light, for God’s glory itself outshines the Sun. And this river flows not only through the land of Israel as the river shown to Ezekiel, but to every nation, throughout all of creation, teeming with life with trees of life and healing flourishing along its banks and restoring life to everyone it reached.
Today the world looks upon the waterfalls at Ground Zero, and their endless motion reminds us of the passage of time. And the world will gaze into the pits, into the voids, into the scar left ten years ago as so many lives were tragically cut out of human history. The time that passes in the absence of a loved one is painful, yet it passes just the same… 60 seconds a minute and 60 minutes an hour. We grieve their loss. We mourn with those who mourn, for death was never meant to be. We honor their memory and we are reminded of the extremes of good and evil that have become woven into the human condition. We are reminded of unrelenting hatred but also of tremendous sacrifice and heroism. We are reminded of fear and terror, but also of unbelievable courage and faith. We are reminded of the hopelessness we face in our sin, but also of the healing power of love, grace, and forgiveness.
Even the greatest sacrifice in human history, the crucifixion of God’s own Son, comes with scars that remain for eternity. Like Thomas, we will one day see and touch the nail marks in his hands and the piercing of his side. Scars remind us of the wounds of the past, but they also remind us that those wounds no longer paralyze us. Scars are a sign of healing and a restoration of wholeness to the broken body.
As we gaze today into the void that is Ground Zero, let us pray that all might know that God has already filled the void. The cross has bridged the chasm. The blood of Christ has literally raised life out of death. And the Tree of Life that grew in Eden, from which the four rivers flowed out bringing life to the world before we tragically cut it out of human history by our sin, will be the Throne of God Himself, in the Second Eden, the New Jerusalem, where we are invited to dwell with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… our Creator… God! … The only Life-Giver, the only source of Love and Light, and the only one who can fill the void of death with life abundant, and life everlasting… And it is Very Good!