by Michael J. Klassen
I had woken up early to work on a writing project. At the time I was self-employed as a freelance writer. Walking to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal, I picked up the remote to help my daughter Allie find SpongeBob SquarePants on TV.
While scrolling from station to station, I spotted a burning building on one of the channels. I paused for minute to watch, but moved on because I determined the scene was much ado about nothing.
Was I ever wrong.
About an hour later, I checked the news sites on my computer and discovered that the burning building was the World Trade Center. But now a second one was engulfed in flames.
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t tear myself away from the television. When the first tower collapsed, I remember losing my breath. This can’t be happening, I kept telling myself. Despite my disdain for the arrogance New York City often effuses, I couldn’t help feeling overwhelming grief for the people effected by the terrorist attack.
At the same time, news broadcasts then reported that the Pentagon had come under attack as well as a plane that crashed in Pennsylvania?
What is this world coming to? I wondered.
Soon, every airport in America was closed, leaving the skies eerily silent.
Nothing has done more to undermine America’s sense of self-assuredness than the tragic events of September 11, 2001. We were insulated from the rest of the world. We assumed we were safe from outside attack. Catastrophes common in other countries didn’t happen here.
But they did.
In those dark days, the words of a verse in Scripture echoed inside me. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)
The answer to that question is, nothing.
The psalmist continues:
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
When the foundations are being destroyed, where is God? He’s still on the throne. He’s still the powerful God that he’s always been. He still sees what is happening. He sees the victim and feels their pain. He hates the violence. The psalmist says God hates those who love violence. That’s a hard pill to swallow in light of the many Scripture passages that extol the unremitting love of God.
This we know: God loves justice and he hates violence. At some point, all the past evils will be righted, atoned for. And fortunately he forgives, because if he didn’t, all of us would be grouped with the wicked.
Actually, the psalmist does offer us something we can do when the foundations are being destroyed: “In the Lord I take refuge” he writes at the beginning of the psalm. The Hebrew word for “refuge” appears 24 times in the Psalms. Hebrew scholars say that the word can also be translated “take cover”–like when bombs are showering down on you.
“In the Lord I take cover.” I like that.
When the foundations are being destroyed, we’re reminded how fragile life is. How petty everyday offenses really are. How trivial our pursuits can be.
When the foundations are being destroyed, we discover that we can take cover and find peace in the God who loves us and made us.
This weekend we remember the 2,819 people who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on United Airlines flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We also remember the families and friends of those people whose lives were affected as a result of the tragedy. May we live with the understanding that life is fragile and in God we can find refuge.
Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.