Lament, Hope, and September 11

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By Nathaniel Williams

September 11, 2001. It began as a normal day. I sat in my eighth-grade language class, learning some finer point of grammar. But the school headmaster’s voice came over the intercom, interrupting our sense of normalcy. Planes had struck the World Trade Center, he told us. Terrorism was the likely culprit.

We didn’t do much learning in the hours after that. Algebra I turned into an expanded discussion of downed planes, what had happened and how the buildings fell. In Study Hall, we huddled around a radio to listen to the latest reports from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. When I returned home, I laid homework aside and watched cable news all afternoon.

That day will forever be etched into my memory — as it probably was for you.

Two decades years later, the shock has dwindled. The tragedy has become a piece of history. But the date September 11 will never be a normal day. The mere mention of this day invokes a slight twinge. It’s an annual reminder that things are not right.

September 11 will never be a normal day.

Lament and Hope

The events of September 11, 2001 would have been jarring in any era. But they were particularly jolting given the idealistic notions that preceded them. Just a year or so prior, we celebrated the dawn of a new millennium. This new era would be one of hope and peace, we were told. The future was bright.

But the events of September 11 shattered these idealistic visions. My generation experienced a national, communal lament, a lament which formed us in more ways than we can probably express. The promises of a bright, optimistic future were vacuous. We saw first-hand that the world was irreparably broken.

At the same time, we also saw glimmers of hope. Not a contrived sense of hope that things would get better. No, we saw the hope of heroism. We learned of men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect, serve, defend. We heard about people who ran towards the falling towers as others ran away in the hopes they might save some. We saw heroes who gave their lives so others could live. These days were dark, but we saw a glimmer of hope.

Years later, much has changed in my life and in the world. Much has probably changed for you, too. But that sense of lament and hope remains. Yes, the world is clearly broken, and the people who reside within her are broken as well. At the same time, we see the beautiful dignity of a life lived to serve others.

We lament. But we hope.

September 16, 2001

I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. But I also remember where I was on September 16. Like millions of others, I filled a crowded sanctuary in an attempt to find answers in the midst of pain — to find a glimpse of hope despite the tragic loss of life, mangled steel and altered skylines.

That Sunday, we lamented together. We celebrated heroism together. And we looked to the cross. In the cross, we see the world and its people are broken, so broken that our sins sent a sinless Savior to a brutal death. But in the cross, we also see hope, a hope that comes from the ultimate Hero giving his life to save us all — so we can live in an eternity with him where all things are made new.

So, all these years later, I lament the world’s brokenness. I celebrate the heroism of those who sacrificed their lives. And I reflect on the cross, which gives me an ultimate sense of hope. No, the idealistic visions of my youth haven’t panned out, but I’m grateful for the God who gives grace in the here and now.

A version of this article originally published on Sept. 11, 2019.

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Nathaniel D. Williams

Editor and Content Manager

Nathaniel D. Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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