There are times in our life we will always remember. I will always remember where I was when I heard about the assassination of President Kennedy, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when the Challenger exploded, and the events of 9/11. Some of those events seem to have happened a long time ago and others like 9/11 seem not that long ago.
However, as recent as the events of 9/11 happened, I realized that for those 20 years and younger, it is only history. This past week, Sept. 11th, we commemorated the 18th anniversary of the events of 9/11 that changed America. The question, “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” is not asked as much anymore, but we still remember as if it was yesterday.
I remember that morning I was getting ready for my day when my wife called me into the living room to see the news report about two airplanes that just hit the Twin Towers in New York. One airplane might be an accident, but two airplanes? Then another crash in Pennsylvania and then an airplane diverted to Washington, D.C. Then the Pentagon! We were in shock and were glued to the TV for any tidbit of breaking news that would tell us what was going on.
At first, I was reminiscent of the Millennium Bug where it was feared that all the airlines would be out of control because the computers couldn’t handle the new millennium. Then it was quickly brought up that this was an organized and deliberate effort, by terrorists, to attack America. And the events unfolded of the tragedy that shook America on that dreadful day. Where were you when 9/11 occurred? I am guessing if you were old enough to remember, you probably remember where you were.
Another question arises when tragedies like that happen, “Where was God?” In the beginning, that question was asked by those who were in great pain, who lost loved ones in those attacks. It was also asked of people who were angry and wanted to blame someone or something for what happened. The question was thrown at God, “Where were you? You should have kept this from happening.” And there were some who genuinely asked the question out of a hurting heart desperate to understand how such a thing could happen. “Where were you, God? Why did this happen? Why did my husband … wife … child … friend, have to die?”
Eighteen years later, we are still trying to make sense of that tragedy, as well as others, that happen nationally, or even in our own personal lives. “Where were you, God?”
Rather than try any attempt to answer that philosophically or theologically, I firmly believe that as God promised to those who cry out to him, he is with us. I don’t always know how God works or why God intervenes with some and does not with others, but I believe he loves us and is with us and helps us through tragedy. Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
A hurricane in the Bahamas and the East Coast; fires up north, and other tragedies that have happened and are happening in our lives right now. I strongly believe God is there willing to be with us to help us through those times. And when a loved one dies, I believe God is with them, ushering them into eternity with love, comfort, strength and joy.
Shortly after the events of 9/11, someone wrote a poem entitled “Meet Me in the Stairwell,” author unknown, asking “Where were You, God?” And the verses in the poem answered, “I was on the 110th floor in a smoke-filled room with a man who called his wife to say good-bye.” “I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls.” “I was on all four of those planes, in every seat with every prayer.” And one line in the poem says, “Some met me for the first time on the 88th floor. Some sought me with their last breath. Some chose to ignore Me, but I was there.”
When I heard that poem for the first time, it spoke to me deeply. Recalling tragedies in my own life, I also sensed the presence of God with me, helping me through those traumatic times. And I know he was with my dad and with so many others who passed on into eternity to be with Jesus forever. Where were you when …? Where was God when …?” He was right there all the time!
• Dan Wiese is the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.