I only rarely review books and have never yet reviewed a DVD but I have just finished watching a film that I brought and viewed with great reluctance. "United 93" - the film that covered the fourth plane that was brought down in Shanksville rather than hitting it's target - either the White House or the Capitol.
I guess we all remember where we were on the day that Diana, Princess of Wales died and on September 11th 2001. I had just got into my house from my new job in Birmingham and turned the television when the news broke. I stayed rooted to the television for the rest of the day so it was a day that is rooted in my memory. Furthermore New York has always been a city that for some reason has been very close to my heart, as is the United States of America.
The film is extremely well made and does not seek in the slightest to hype the events of that tragic day. It was made with the agreement of the families of the people who were on board and starts with the passengers (and terrorists) getting ready then arriving at the airport. As the plane leaves Newark, the news begins to break that planes had hit the World Trade Centre in New York. The majority of the film covers the heartbreaking phone conversations between those on the plane and their loved ones. As the film draws to a close it touches on the point that the authorities were tracking the flight and were debating shooting down or crippling the plane if necessary. Finally it covers the outstanding act of bravery as the passengers overcame the terrorists and brought down the plane. The rest as they say is history.
I was amazed at how the pure evil of mankind could be portrayed (the callous desire to slaughter untold numbers of lives) alongside the amazing heroism of mankind (the brave willingness to sacrifice their lives for the sake of saving more). I remember on September 11th 2001, my angry attitude to God was "Why? Why didn't You intervene?". Today my feeling was slightly more in touch, I hope, with the heart of God. I felt His utter sorrow at that day. I do believe He wept as countless thousands of His creation lost their lives and will never again hear His Gospel of grace. Surely John Piper is right when he said; "Sin caused the collapse and sin caused the cross".
Yet the film did more for me than just a general reflection on God's sovereign design on that day. I have heard the prophets in the family of churches I am in speak with increasing regularity of the sure approach of persecution, suffering and martyrdom. John Piper said; "The cross of Christ calls us to suffer and secures our triumph. Suffering is certain. Salvation is sure. And the cross makes all the difference". I have often wondered what I would do if I ever had to face my own death and what factors would cause me to willingly lay down my life. Love? I have very close friends who I do love, and a family and a church. But love was present on United 93 - that was so evident. I hope and pray that I will increasingly gain a vision of God and His Kingdom that is worth laying ones life down for! What is that vision? The Gospel spreading across the world and the witness of that.
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had bourne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?". Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been" - (Revelation 6:9-11 ESV).
It seems to me that there is incredible eternal recognition for martyrs. There is rest. But it also seems that there is a set number of martyrs and when that number is complete then God will act and move to avenge their deaths. So rather than martyrdom being something to dread, fear and avoid - rather it is something to look for, long for. Can there be any greater honour than to die for the Gospel and in witness of it? I always longed to be married but I am beginning to believe that there could be some purpose in my living a single, celibate life. Paul wrote; "To the unmarried ... I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am" - (1 Corinthians 7:8 ESV).
I am so grateful for this marvellous documentary of the bravery of human beings. Unlike many films and the dreadful thing that is TV, it is actually made me think and consider what really matters in life - above all preparing for the life that is to come. My prayers have gone out to the families of those who were bereaved on that day - that the God of mercy would comfort them and indeed bring them to see the Gospel for what it truly is. Oh that there could be some eternal good come out from that awful day! Or as John Piper put it: "Oh, that every American would say, "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14)". And I would add "human being".