The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable. A tree does not know itself to be miserable. It is then being miserable to know oneself to be miserable; but it is also being great to know that one is miserable. –Blaise Pascal
Remembering 9/11 at Ground Zero reminds us of both human greatness and human misery. Ground Zero is both a place of heroism, courage, and honor, but also a marker for devastation, suffering, and tragedy. Both the scale of the evil and the good have immortalized the events of that day. Ground Zero was a terrifying hole in the ground, but today new towers are rising hundreds of feet into the air. It is the tombstone of 343 brave fireman, who heroically gave their lives to rescue others, in response to the suicidal violence of a dozen terrorists who killed thousands.
Such stark contradictions, side by side to one another. Blaise Pascal, the famous French mathematician, expressed this tension well:
Man must not think that he is on a level either with the brutes or with the angels, nor must he be ignorant of both sides of his nature; but he must know both.
This balanced view of humanity is wise. It takes in all the data well.
By contrast, some have argued from 9/11 that there can be no God. The suffering, the heartache, the wrongness of it all is Exhibit A that we are alone and without defense. No God will intervene to spare us pain and hardship when we need such divine aid the most. If we just look at one side of this tragedy, then we miss the most important point.
We need to place our Ground Zero within the context of another Ground Zero. It is about the same tensions between evil and good. A powerful coalition of zealous religious leaders and corrupt politicians financed a state-sponsored act of terrorism against an innocent man. On the basis of trumped-up, made-up, done-up charges in a sham court, this teacher of love was found guilty of blasphemy and treason. Beaten, mocked, jailed, and deprived of basic human rights, he was hastily executed the following day.
The other Ground Zero in our history is the cross, the crucifixion of Jesus. The cross speaks to God’s presence in human pain. God himself assumes our suffering and dies to take it all to the grave. In his death, Jesus defeats death. He rises from the rigor mortis of the grave to new life as a victorious conqueror, who forever lives and reigns over all Creation. So the Christian cry is ““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
The cross and the resurrection reveal both the horror of human evil and the greatness of God’s love and power. God dying for people He created for Himself, who have spit in His face and turned against him. God dying that we might not die, to win us by His love and join him in the joy of everlasting life.
As we remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let me invite you to place both of these Ground Zeroes together. They each reflect the misery and the greatness of humanity. When we’re searching for God at the first Ground Zero, at the foot of the cross, we discover in a most surprising way that God can be with us as we remember the tragedy of 9/11.