Memories are often bittersweet. We think of loved ones that were lost, and we remember the good times that we had with them. We also recall the void that is in our lives because they are no longer with us.
We remember the lives of children and watching them grow up. We also recall that we should have spent more time with them, and that we cannot ever get that time back.
Thinking back to September 11, 2001, there is nothing “bittersweet” about it. The memories of that Tuesday are only bitter. The world changed that day, and it was not a change for the better.
I was sitting in the office at Sawyer’s Creek Baptist Church that morning when we got a call that something was happening in New York. We pulled out an old television and found a channel that we could see with the help of an old-school set of rabbit ears (yes, some of us are old enough to remember what those are).
No one knew what was happening as the cameras focused on the burning buildings. We were half-watching, half-working, when all of the sudden the screen changed. We watched in horror as the first tower came crashing down.
There were no words. What could any of us possibly say?
I remember my wife, Tracy, looking at me and saying, “This is the first time that I’ve ever been really scared for our lives.” I remember talking with students, church members and family about our fears, our disbelief, and what we are supposed to do now. No one exactly knew, and perhaps we still don’t.
I remember washing the dishes in our kitchen that night. At the end of the “official” evening news, they played a video of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. The band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the event. My eyes welled up with tears and I could not help but cry. They were tears of patriotism, sadness, and fear.
Some will point to the unity that we felt as a nation after the event, to the prayer gatherings that we held at our places of worship as “positives” of the event. Others will point to the wars that the event produced and the thousands of lives that have been lost as far outweighing any positive outcome.
Some will talk about the billions of dollars spent, but that hardly seems like the most critical issue.
Some said that this was God’s punishment on the United States. I do not believe either of those to be the case. To say that every tragic event is God’s punishment on us makes us victims of God rather than His dearly loved creation. If God punishes us in this way, then the words of grace and forgiveness in the Bible are a complete lie. And I absolutely believe that mercy triumphs over judgment.
Some said that this was simply “God’s Will”. I do not believe this either. If God wanted this to happen, then He essentially reached down and desired for the people in those towers–and on those airplanes–to suffer and die in horror and fear. He wanted their families to miss them and suffer and feel the rage and desire for revenge.
Can we really say that God DESIRED this to happen? God is not a torturer or a brutal murderer. That is not the God who so loved the world, who came to this earth as Jesus Christ so that we could learn to live and love as He wants. The God of scripture does get angry, but He goes beyond our human understanding to heal and forgive rather than punish and destroy.
No, 9/11 was the product of those going against the will of God, misunderstanding the will of God, or outright defying the will of God. The event was a product of fear, anger, hate and revenge. And since that time, we as a nation have struggled not to let those same feelings grow in our own hearts.
No, I don’t have any “sweet” when I think about Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It is only bitter sadness.
While I do not dare to indict God for this event by calling this “His will,” I do believe that God can draw good from even our biggest disasters. That includes events of our own doing; or events like 9/11, which are based on the actions of others in a sinful and dangerous world.
Yes, something good has come from 9/11. I just don’t know what it is. And perhaps we will never know what it is, at least in this life.
Perhaps we are reminded of just how fragile physical life is. Perhaps we are challenged in our faith to forgive the unforgivable. Perhaps we are pushed to see the humanity even in those that we fear.
Even with all of my talk and preaching about forgiveness and equality, I still struggle with followers of Islam. I catch myself looking twice at people of Arabic descent, even while believing that it is wrong to feel that way. I fight my desire for safety and vengeance, praying for the strength of love, forgiveness, and understanding. And I still believe we can only receive this love, forgiveness and understanding in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The hardship of living for Christ is learning to live with the dichotomy within ourselves and this endlessly imperfect world. We have to strive to live for Christ, even in the ambiguity of a post-9/11 society. And make no mistake, that event had a negative effect on the entire world. (As if things were not difficult enough in the first place).
So what are the answers? What have we learned? I just don’t know. Perhaps the answer is that we are still searching for answers, and a walk of faith requires us to trust God in the middle of such uncertainty. Maybe we can learn to move past our anger and fear in order to love and forgive those who certainly did not ask for it and may not “deserve” it.
After all, that’s what Jesus did for us. Maybe 9/11 will challenge us to be more like Him, even when we don’t feel like it.