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FIRST-PERSON: Columns of smoke

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Most of us remember the sick feeling in our stomachs as we watched the column of smoke, fire and dust rise thunderously in the space where Trade Center Tower Two had stood. Moments later, a second column merged with the first. The world had changed.

I was a Cold War baby. I’ve always been proud of the stability and prosperity that our nation’s wealth and power have brought us. I’ve always cried a bit as I say the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve always paused when I’ve seen a line of soldiers marching or a squadron of jets soaring. On that day, though, for the first time in my life, I felt helpless as an American. To some extent, it felt like I was watching my own sense of security go up in that dark cloud of death and destruction.

Among the Scriptures that have most influenced my life is Isaiah 6, where the prophet describes his vision of heaven. Isaiah is overcome by the death of his friend, King Uzziah. For half a century, the kingdom had prospered under his reign, growing in wealth, might and reputation. Then, in a day, Uzziah was gone and Isaiah was confronted with the reality that his world had changed.

As Isaiah lamented the loss of his friend, he was given a vision of a great column of smoke, but that smoke came not from the destruction of a building but from the glory of Jehovah God Himself seated on His throne. Surely Isaiah saw in the column of smoke the image of the pillar of cloud and fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness and into Canaan. As Isaiah pondered his vision, he was reminded that Uzziah was not responsible for his people’s blessings. God was.

As Americans, we should pay attention to the state of our government and to our national defenses. As Christians, though, we should be aware that history is filled with turbulence. Leaders cast a vision, but despots impose blindness. Fortunes accumulate, but moths and rust destroy. Kingdoms rise, but they also fall. That’s the way of the fallen world.

We should also remember, however, that the tyranny of the challenges that surround us is still subject to the Almighty God who sits on that great throne. History still moves toward an ultimate goal, the return of Christ, in spite of the difficulties that we see in our own times. Our security lies in our God.

When John was on Patmos, he had a vision of heaven just as Isaiah had. I like to read that passage in Revelation 4 and imagine that as John stood wide-eyed on one side of the throne, Isaiah stood wide-eyed on the other, both of them in their separate moments within the same eternity beholding the foundational fact of this universe: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (v. 4).

Since September 11, we’ve seen the chaos of economics, Afghanistan and Iraq, of natural disasters and personal tragedies in our own lives. Our temptation is to bow our heads in prayer and lament our times.

I pray, though, that as we ponder the image of the column of smoke and fire that so indelibly marked our mind’s eyes two years ago, we will not see tragedy. Instead I pray that we will be reminded of the column of deliverance that led God’s people out of bondage and of the glory of God on His throne. I pray that we will claim this blessed assurance: God reigns eternally and, through Christ, we are His children.
Gene C. Fant Jr. chairs the English department at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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  • Gene Fant