Editor’s note: In a desire to remember and honor those murdered on 9/11, I am departing from our format slightly today. I wrote this in the days following the 9/11 attack. It was first published in the Vail Daily. I have made only minor grammatical changes. Eugene
Daily the sound of children chattering, laughing, whooping and shouting wafts, soothing and constant like waves breaking on the beach, through my open windows. There is a grade school directly behind my house and each fall weekday, at about 8:45a.m., the delightful laughing and squealing and playing commences. Occasionally I’ll take breaks from my study to watch the children from the deck. Looking down into the playground these disembodied voices suddenly connect with children on swings, or playing soccer, or chase, or simply sitting against the wall talking. Their sporadic movements and spontaneous smiles dance in the fall air like sunlight on choppy water. Back in my study again, each wave of laughter reminds me life is as it should be and that I’m not alone.
Today however, all is not as it should be and it sounds as if I am very much alone. Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and the waves of innocent noise from the playground have stopped rolling because several thousand miles away an unthinkable evil has struck our nation. Behind my house stunned silence reigns. On this day the children are being kept inside for very good reasons: fear, respect, confusion, safety. I too wallow in stunned silence unable to concentrate on my work.
I sit and wonder, is God silent too? Why does it seem God is so quiet when evil speaks? For the next couple of hours these questions pound me along with the horrific images from the television. God, why are you so silent?
Thankfully the phone rings and calls me away to help with emergency prayer services in one of the chapels I serve. The chapel fills with people of all denominations and faiths twice that day. We weep and pray together quietly. Slowly through our prayers and tears, I hear a profound sound. God too is quietly weeping. I realize the silence of the children in the school behind my house was deeper than a silence of safety or fear. It was a silence of mourning. I am reminded of Jesus response to the death of his friend Lazarus: “Jesus wept.”
Why did I, do we, assume that God condones evil simply because God allows it to continue for a time? Does God’s silence really imply He is sitting in heaven nodding and muttering, “It’s about time those sinful humans suffered. It’s just what they deserve”? God forbid! Yes, we all have sinned. But God doesn’t silently and angrily throw airplanes into tall towers full of His children to punish them anymore than loving parents sneak up behind their children and beat their bottoms with no warning or explanation. No, God does not laugh at or ignore our pain. He mourns.
I know this because God was silent at another horrific time in history. The world went dark for three hours while Jesus hung on the cross (Luke 23:44-46). God mourned as He turned away from the sins of the world–including those of September 11–tainting the heart of Jesus Christ.
On September 11 God was not silent or inactive after all. If we look and listen, this becomes obvious. Since September 11 courage, kindness, love and mercy poured from the hearts of people in the United States and around the world. For example, some of the passengers on the Pennsylvania plane forced it to crash so as to save those in its intended target. And our little Interfaith Chapels raised $20,000 for disaster relief. A Girl Scout troop in Denver made red, white and blue ribbons and a local radio station gave them away for donations, raising several hundred thousand dollars. A friend of mine told me she broke down in tears in the parking lot of the post office. A stranger on crutches hobbled over and comforted her with a long hug.
For me the final piece of evidence that God was not silent came when I stopped in at the hospital to visit a woman from our congregation who had, on September 13, given birth to a son. I trembled at what I might say to her. How would she feel bringing a son into such a world? Would she be depressed? And how could I comfort her? She beamed as I walked in, the first true smile I had seen since Monday.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” she said pointing to her son.
“Yes. He is!” I beamed back.
Looking at that dark-haired miracle, I thought, Oh, how could I be so ignorant? Evil and hate can temporarily take life. But only God and love can create life. God is not silent! The quiet mourning of God is not a powerless shrug of the shoulders. He was not silent on September 11 nor was he silent when Christ died on the cross. In both cases God quietly takes death and turns it to eternal life.
“It is finished,” Jesus said from the cross. What is finished? The ability of evil to prevail. Win some major and devastating battles? Yes. But God’s love will prevail because only God can turn death and devastation to love and life. God is not silent. Jesus Christ shouted mercy, power, forgiveness and victory from the empty tomb. And he still shouts it today. No. God is not silent or inactive. If we listen, we can still hear Jesus whisper from the cross “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And if we allow it, He will speak and act through our love and kindness to one another.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO. If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.