May the peace of Christ guide your thoughts and prayers today, as we remember the attacks of September 11, 2001. As I ponder where we are twenty years later, I find myself going back not to 2001 but to the ancient times when David was king of Israel. He wrote Psalm 8 when he took his eyes away from the struggles and conflicts of life to contemplate the bigger question of existence. Here is what he wrote:
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
What a magnificent vision of biblical faith. And how appropriate for us in the 21st century, when the stars and the moon evoke even more amazement than they did to the ancients. We know better than David how immense the universe is and how unimaginably great the creative power of God. And yet, the greatest work of God’s creative genius is the lowly creature called the human being.
Lowly, did I say? Yes, lowly, but only “a little lower than God”! Only a little lower than God! Most English translations shy away from saying God and instead write “a little lower than the angels” or “a little lower than the heavenly beings”. But the Hebrew original says אֱלֹהִים (ʾělō·hîm). Elohim is the generic name for God in the Hebrew Scriptures. So let’s not shy away from saying with David, “You have made [human beings] a little lower than God.”
God has crowned us with glory and honor. And yet we continue to do atrocities – and atrocities often in the name of God! As those Islamist terrorists did on 9/11; as Christians have done and still do when marching off to wars with the prayers and blessings of priests and bishops. And yet this psalm of David also tells us that the praises of children and infants are our safeguard against enemies and silence the foe and the avenger.
Children and infants. Jesus said that unless we become as children we cannot enter, we cannot see, the kingdom of the heavens. Children and infants teach us to see our common humanity.
Twenty years later we are more divided as a nation, more divided as a human race! What are human beings indeed? Why should God even care about us, the psalm asks. Let us look for those things in our spiritual and faith traditions that unite rather than divide. Will we this way magically prevent further attacks from enemies external or internal? No, but we might learn better ways of dealing with the hurt and the sorrow. Twenty years later, we still have not learned all the lessons of 9/11. But it is never too late.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!