Gratitude, Duty, and Hope

  No one who was old enough to take it in will ever forget September 11, 2001. We see passenger jets flying out of a clear September morning, the flashes of flame, the destruction, the death, and the valiant acts of heroism. It is well to remember and to mourn the victims this day. But let me raise the question of why we memorialize those who have sacrificed for us. What's our object in doing so? The answer is gratitude. As we mourn and remember the sacrifices of those who went before us, we ourselves, out of gratitude for what they did, commit ourselves to defend those values for which they died -- principles we hold so dear: freedom and human dignity. Gratitude: John Calvin said gratitude was at the center of the Christian life, and G. K. Chesterton called it "the mother of all virtues." It was gratitude for living in a free country that caused me to put on the uniform of a United States Marine officer during the Korean War. We do our duty to our country out of gratitude for those who went before us to defend the liberties we hold so precious. I love the scene at the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan. Ryan, who is now seventy years old, returns to Normandy, and he is looking at the grave marker of Captain Miller, the man who died to save him during World War II. Ryan is on his knees. The grave marker is a stark, white cross. He addresses Miller, now long dead: "I've tried every day to live up to what you did for me . . . I hope I've lived a life worthy of your sacrifice." On this anniversary of the attacks, we ought to be looking at the sacrifices people made for us and asking ourselves whether we are living lives worthy of their sacrifices. In addition to gratitude and duty, we remember because good can come out of those vicious terrorist attacks. It is, of course, a biblical principle that God works through human suffering, tragedies, and defeats -- sometimes to do His greatest work. These acts of war served as a wake-up call. There was a lot of utopian discussion going on in the nineties about how Western liberal democracy had won the great ideological contest for the twentieth century. We forgot this is a dangerous world and that evil is real. Now we know better, and even the postmodernist has to agree there is evil. And just as the great World War II generation saved the world from Hitler's evil, so this generation must become great for this moment. It is our calling to be great in defense of liberty and freedom and human rights, to defend good against evil today. The war on terrorism is, by its nature, slow and treacherous. We must not allow ourselves to become discouraged or fatigued. On this September 11, after looking back with gratitude, we need to look ahead. Our hope lies in our resolve to do our duty that our gratitude inspires. Our hope lies in the lessons we have learned for the future. And our hope lies in our confidence in a sovereign God -- that in the end, right will prevail, that civilization can be preserved, and that America and her allies, in defense of freedom and in opposition to evil, will triumph. And just like that scene in Saving Private Ryan, let us also this day look at the cross as Ryan did. May we live lives worthy of the supreme sacrifice Christ made for us. For further reading and information: BreakPoint's "9/11 Worldview Resource Kit" answers questions many Americans are asking. It includes Timothy George's book Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, Chuck Colson's When Night Fell on a Different World: How Now Shall We Live?, and a "BreakPoint Weekend Special" CD including two interviews with Chuck Colson recorded after September 11 and a year later. "A Fact Sheet on Just War Theory," BreakPoint Online, 3 December 2001. "Making Biblical Sense of This National Tragedy: Learning from the Events of September 11, 2001," BreakPoint Online, 2001. "Comforting Children in a Time of Crisis: A reading list for children in the wake of terror," BreakPoint Online, 2001. BreakPoint commentary no. 020703, "Exhausted and Elated: A Just War Justly Fought." BreakPoint commentary no. 020530, "'Love Our Enemies' or 'An Eye for an Eye'?: The Morality of War." BreakPoint commentary no. 020327, "Hating War while Loving the Warrior: A New Kind of War Film." Peggy Noonan, "A Heart, a Cross, a Flag: What Arose from the Ashes," Wall Street Journal, 6 September 2002. Adam Keiper, "Commemorating Attacks: Pearl Harbor and Now," National Review Online, 6 September 2002. Peter L. Bergen, "Portrait of the Enemy," Book World, Washington Post, 8 September 2002, BW03. Amitai Etzioni, "American Society in the Age of Terrorism," The Communitarian Network, September 2002.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary