Last weekend we celebrated the events of what has simply come to be known as 9-11. It seems awkward to celebrate the tragedy, but in a way that is what we have done.
In almost every major city across this nation there was some sort of ceremony remembering those who died on that fateful Tuesday morning 15 years ago. As well, those ceremonies also recognized those who have committed their lives to preserving and protecting our freedoms, even in light of – and in spite of – all attempts to diminish and dampen the impact and the need for such everyday heroes.
On Sunday, it was my privilege to attend a professional football game in another city. The pregame show included a group of paratroopers landing in the center of the field and delivering the national flag to the stadium to the rousing applause and cheers of 65,000 fans. For the national anthem, there was the unfolding of a much larger national flag covering the entire field. Holding up that flag were not only members of the military, but also a significant number of surviving family members related to individuals who died in the 9-11 tragedies. Add to that a magnificent fly-over of planes and helicopters and you have a marvelous commemoration and honoring of the event.
For those who are old enough to remember that event, it is one that is cemented in our hearts and our brains. We can tell you exactly where we were on that day. It just will not go away. For those who are old enough to remember, it is not unlike the memory of Pearl Harbor or the JFK assassination. Those memories are forever etched in the scrapbook of our lives as memories which will never be erased. Nor should they be.
But 15 years later there is a question that we all asked then, and it still remains to this day. It is one that just simply will not go away. “Why?” Why did so many people have to die on that day and in that way? Quite frankly, it does not matter if you are a religious person or not. That question still remains. And to be fair and frank, there is no good answer that will satisfy all the questions of our hearts and souls. Even for the spiritual: “God, what were you thinking? Could you not have prevented this tragedy? Why did you let such a devastating event take place?”
Those are not new questions, of course. They are ones which each and every one of us, at some point in our lives, have asked of God. It really does not matter whether you believe in Him or not – you still ask the questions. These questions arise every time a loved one dies, or whenever there is a loss of a job, or a failure on an exam, or an overlook on a promotion at work. Yes, we may even ask these sorts of questions during an unpopular election.
But whenever I am faced with such questions, I cannot help but turn to the Word of God, and especially to the life of Job. This young man had led a very successful life. He had prospered in his family life, in his social life, and in his business life. He was very well-to-do, and seemed not to have a care in the world.
But then one day he lost it all. He lost his business, his family, his health, and his friends – or so he thought. The one question which reigned in his heart and mind was “why?” Job even made it personal by asking, “Why me, God?” He made no attempt to hide his questions. He made no effort to cover up his pain and put on a good appearance for his friends. His wife – the one person he did not lose – even encouraged him to “curse God and die!” Job’s friends came to him, as good friends should do, and offered him counsel and comfort as best they could. They advised him to search for the sins in his life and confess them. They challenged him to even look for sins which he did not know or even think he had committed and confess them. Job did what they asked, but still remained in the suffering mode. The pain was unbearable. Still, he asked the questions. Still, he heard nothing from God in regard to “why?”
Finally, at the epitome of his frustration, he quit asking the questions. Rather, he basically said to God (please pardon my paraphrase), “God, I have done everything you asked. I have been blameless in everything I have done. Yet I still suffer. I believe you owe me an answer. I’m entitled to it!” It was only then that he heard from God. Only then did he get a response. But it was far from the response he expected or wanted.
God said to Job, in essence, “I hear you Job, and I understand your predicament. But let me ask you a few questions: Were you there when I created the universe? Were you there when I hung the worlds in space, when I created man and breathed into him the very breath of life? Were you there?” Obviously, the only answer Job could give was “no.” But God commended him for his honesty and his commitment to the Lord – he did not take his wife’s advice. And God restored his fortunes to him in even greater proportion than before. God honored Job’s commitment to Him even through the thin of life’s thick and thin.
And that is the continuing message of 9-11 for all of us. God wants our nation, but even more God wants you and me, individually, to honor Him as God, to give Him our hearts and lives and to trust that indeed He is in control and He knows what He is doing! And God will honor you if you do.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.