In a recent trip to New York, I visited the 9/11 memorial and museum. Little did I realise that familiar scenes would be repeated in just over a week in Paris.
As I walked through the exhibitions, I was struck by the enormity of this act of terror and how it has reshaped our expectations. That, I suppose, is one of the purposes of terrorists - to create fear and uncertainty where there was previously little expectation of it. Yet, the thing that struck me most was the cost such a coordinated act of terror has had on those who have to rebuild their lives in the aftermath.
Reliving the chronology of that day was chilling. It began as any other day for almost 3,000 unsuspecting individuals. Hearing some of the recordings of their last phone messages to loved ones was particularly heart-rending.
Claiming no knowledge of the politics of terror and the growth of so-called radical Islam, I simply have a few simple observations on what 9/11 or any other such act of terror can teach us.
Firstly, it reminds us that no matter how our post modern culture wishes to explain away this behaviour, evil is a very present reality. How else can we explain the deliberate and callous act of flying planes directly into buildings to cause maximum pain and damage? The same could be said of those who open fire on unsuspecting strangers in restaurants and concerts.
Secondly, such acts surely cause a deep-seated desire within us for justice. What person who has any connection with his or her humanity could not be moved by the sheer tragedy of lives cut off, many in their prime, and the consequent anguish caused to their loved ones. Is there any comfort in believing that these are simply meaningless, random events that will one day be buried in a sea of nothingness? Our humanity cries out for justice.
Finally, the very fact of the memorial's existence speaks of the hope of life after tragedy. The pain is not erased, but out of the rubble and destruction, new resolution is found to carry on.
All these "lessons" speak of the reality of the Christian Gospel. The existence of evil in all human hearts may not be awakened in such acts, but it is a sober fact that the faces of those who murdered so many remained disguised as just another neighbour, work colleague or friend until September 11 2001. And the voice that cries for justice needs to understand that justice demands full and final payment for all that is wrong, wherever and in whomever it is found.
Here is where the Christian Gospel shines. New life and hope is found in the forgiveness brought through Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection. This was the only thing that brought me any measure of peace as I considered the terror enacted on so many in that day.
I look forward to a day when tears will be wiped away, "when there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or death, for the old order of things has passed away."