9/11, OK City & Me

Planes exploding like missiles, skyscrapers falling like waterfalls, and debris scattering like sawdust. Eleven years ago, I turned on the TV and saw the same pictures that you have seen. Andy, my closest friend at that time, worked on the 93rd floor of the North Tower. No one had heard from him. During the week, I drove around to local hospitals to see if there had been any unidentified victims, dead or alive. But I was grieved to realize that there just weren’t any remains to be identified.

By the time Saturday arrived, I had come to grips with the fact that I would never see Andy alive again. This was not a sudden realization, it was a slowly diminishing hope. I, myself, had to make the decision that he was dead. There was no one to tell me, no one to decide for me. I had to be the one to kill the possibility of his survival. Some decided before me and some decided after me. But when I decided, I decided alone.

In my mourning, the impulse was to stare at the injustice of it all—What had Andy done to any of these people?—and blame someone. I wanted to climb to the top of the tallest building still standing and shake my fist at God and yell, “How could you do this? How could you let this happen?”

And then I remembered something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma City bombing, which happened just 6 years earlier in 1995, killed 168 people and was, at that time, the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil. But what I remembered about the Oklahoma City Bombing was that I saw the pictures, read the articles and then went on with my life. I didn’t grieve the 168 people that died. I didn’t pray for the families of the victims. Why not? Because I didn’t know any of the victims. And so, while Oklahoma City was tragic, it didn’t cause me to wrestle with the conundrum of injustice or climb a tall building and shake my fist at God.

And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t just angry at God that 9/11 had happened. I was angry that 9/11 had happened to me. I wasn’t yelling at God, “How could you let this happen?” I was yelling, “How could you let this happen to me?”

At the core of my blame and cries of injustice was ultimately selfishness. I wasn’t championing the cause of global justice! I was distraught over the death of my friend. I wasn’t blaming God for disrupting the balance of right and wrong in the world. I was hurting because God took something from me and I desperately didn’t want to let it go.

It was then that I realized that God cared more about this injustice than I did. I was able to appreciate God’s concern for the other 2,995 people that died on that day, not just the 1 I knew. I was able to trust in God’s love for the 168 people that died in Oklahoma City. I was able to believe in a God that cares for the nearly 30,000 people that have died in Syria over the last year and a half or for the over 9 million people still starving in the Horn of Africa.

And, I can trust in a God who, through his own voluntary sacrificial death, provides a way of salvation for Andy and for me.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.” ~ Matthew 10:28 (The Message)