Lessons from Lisa
A 9/11 Widow Trusts in the Sovereign Goodness of God
On Sunday, September 8, 2002 John Piper preached from Romans 8:35–36 with a focus on the commemoration of the calamity of 9/11.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’"
He argued that Jesus Christ is mightily loving his people with omnipotent, moment-by-moment love that does not always rescue us from calamity but preserves for everlasting joy in his presence even through suffering and death.
After the exposition, he said, "Let’s let Lisa Beamer bear witness to this sovereign love. Her husband Todd was on flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania. He was the one who said, ‘Let’s Roll.’ He left behind Lisa and three small children (one born last January). I have found at least ten lessons from Lisa mostly in her own words."
What follows are the ten "Lessons from Lisa" that he gave his people as an extended application and embodiment of Romans 8:35.
1. Embracing the sovereignty of God brings strength and hope.
Lisa: "God knew the terrible choices the terrorists would make and that Todd Beamer would die as a result. He knew my children would be left without a father and me without a husband . . . Yet in his sovereignty and in his perspective on the big picture, he knew it was better to allow the events to unfold as they did rather than redirect Todd’s plans to avoid death. . . . I can’t see all the reasons he might have allowed this when I know he could have stopped it . . . I don’t like how his plan looks from my perspective right now., but knowing that he loves me and can see the world from start to finish helps me say, ‘It’s OK.’" (Modern Reformation, 24-25)
"If we believe wholeheartedly, each moment, that our destiny rests in the hands of Jesus Christ – the one with ultimate love and ultimate power – what do we have to be concerned about? Of course, our humanity clouds this truth many times but hanging on to glimpses of it keeps everything in perspective." (Modern Reformation, 31)
2. Don’t presume to know better than God how to run the world. It is pride.
Lisa: "My faith wasn’t rooted in governments, religion, tall buildings, or frail people. Instead, my faith and my security were in God. A thought struck me. Who are you to question God and say that you have a better plan than He does? You don’t have the same wisdom and knowledge that He has, or the understanding of the big picture." (World, 25)
"We also aren’t privy to the perspective he has and shouldn’t claim to know better than he does what should happen and what shouldn’t. . . . Faith means that, regardless of circumstances, we take him at his word that he loves us and will bring us to a good result if we just trust and obey him. Obviously, the ramifications of this understanding have been tremendous for me since 9/11." (Modern Reformation, 25)
3. God has a good purpose in all the hard things that happen to his people.
"God’s sovereignty has been made clear to me. When I am tempted to become angry and ask ‘What if?’ and , ‘Why us?’ God says, ‘I knew on September 10, and I could have stopped it, but I have a plan for greater good than you can ever imagine.’ I don’t know God’s plan, and honestly, right now I don’t like it very much. But I trust that He is true to His promise in Romans 8:28: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.’ My only responsibility is to love God. He’ll work out the rest." (Decision, 8). Beneath her signature Lisa writes Genesis 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." (Modern Reformation, 30)
4. Death and suffering press in on us the perspective of eternity.
Lisa: "September 11 has shown me the reality of eternity in a dynamic way these past few months. When I’m overwhelmed with sadness at what I’ve lost in this life, He is quick to give me His eternal perspective. ‘Lisa, this life is just a blip on the radar screen compared to your future with Me in heaven,’ He says. ‘The best thing that you can imagine on earth is garbage compared to what awaits you.’" (Decision, 8)
5. God’s distribution of suffering is not equal, and one hard thing may prepare for another.
When Lisa was 15 her father suffered an aneurysm at work and died the next morning in the hospital. Lisa: "When my father died, faith wasn’t so easy anymore. . . . I spent five years asking why, expressing my anger saying it’s not fair, before God helped me realize that he is who he is all the time – in good circumstances and bad. He is all-powerful and all-loving, but that doesn’t mean that as a citizen of this fallen world he protects us from every ‘bad’ event." (Modern Reformation, 25)
What a witness to God’s goodness and sovereignty the world would be missing today if God had not prepared Lisa Beamer for this loss by the death of her dad!
6. God’s love takes care of us right now in our suffering, not just later.
Lisa: "He knows that I am a hurting and in need right now. Every day He provides encouragement and resources just for me. Little things show me that He is with me: a Scripture with just the words I need to hear, a call from a friend when I feel lonely, help with a task that I can’t do alone, or a hug and ‘I love you’ from one of my children. God’s love is truly sufficient to meet any need that I have." (Decision, 8-9)
7. Calamity calls for quick practical love like meals and baby sitting.
Lisa: "The picture of the church as the hands and feet of Christ, with each person having a special gift, has been well portrayed to me these last months. In the beginning, it was immediate and practical help I needed – meals, child care, managing phone calls, and mail. Now that we’re out of the crisis mode it is rebuilding help I need – counseling , encouragement, prayer." (Modern Reformation, 28)
8. Quiet, confidence in God’s power and goodness through suffering create occasions for witness.
Marilee Melvin said of Lisa, "Her disarming quiet confidence in God’s purposes must be the reason Larry King has had her on his show eleven times." (Modern Reformation, 30)
9. Trusting in God’s sovereign care in all circumstances frees you from greed and releases love for others.
Money started to flow in to Lisa Beamer. Some letters were simply addressed, Lisa Beamer, New Jersey, and got to her. Lisa: "I didn’t feel comfortable keeping this for ourselves when there were many unknown families who should share." So she started the Todd M. Beamer Foundation to assist children who lost a parent in the 9/11 calamity. (Modern Reformation, 30)
Her freedom for others comes out in another way: "My family and I mourned the loss of Todd deeply that day . . . and we still do. But because we have a hope in the Lord, we know beyond a doubt that one day we will see Todd again. I hurt for the people who don’t have that same hope, and I pray that they will see something in our family that will encourage them to trust in the Lord." (World, 26)
Lisa’s way of encouraging people to trust in the Lord is sometimes so straightforward that Newsweek magazine called it "stern and even a little grim." She wrote in her memoir, "You think you deserve a happy life and get angry when it doesn’t always happen like that. In fact you are a sinner and deserve only death. The fact that God has offered you hope of eternal life is amazing! You should be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude." (Newsweek, 42)
10. Without God the world is hopeless.
With hundreds of others she attended the memorial service in Shanksville, PA at the crash site where her husband died. The Christ-exalting memorial service for Todd had been on Sunday, the day before, and had strengthened her. "On Monday," she said, "as I listened to the well-intentioned speakers, who were doing their best to comfort but with little if any direct reference to the power of God to sustain us. I felt I was sliding helplessly down a high mountain into a deep crevasse. As much as I appreciated the kindness of the wonderful people who tried to encourage us, that afternoon was actually one of the lowest points in my grieving. It wasn’t the people, or event, or the place. Instead, it struck me how hopeless the world is when God is factored out of the equation." (World, 26)
So, together with Lisa Beamer and the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ himself, I plead with you, Don’t factor God out of your life, or Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns and intercedes for all who trust him, that we might have eternal joy with him in the presence of God.
The quotes are from:
Let’s Roll [excerpts from her book], World, Vol. 17, No. 31, August 17, 2002, pp. 20-28.
Lisa Beamer, "The Hope I Know," Decision, Vol. 43, No. 9, September, 2002, pp. 6-9.
Ann Henderson Hart, "Finding Hope Beyond the Ruins: An Interview with Lisa Beamer," Modern Reformation, Vol. 11, No. 5, September/October, 2002, pp. 24-31.
Evan Thomas, "Their Faith and Their Fears," Newsweek, September 11, 2002, pp. 36-48.