Vindicate me, O God,
And plead my cause against an ungodly nation;
Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!
For You are the God of my strength;
Why do You cast me off?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
~ Psalm 43:1–2
How do you look into the eyes of a God who let you down? How do you speak the thoughts that are in your mind? Wasn’t He supposed to protect us? Didn’t He promise to look out for us, to keep us safe under His wing? How then did we get caught up in this event? Why? No. It is too hard to look Him in the eyes, for then all my thoughts would be revealed, and the questions would come. Could my faith endure if I opened the floodgates? It is better to keep it hidden, locked away in the deep recesses of my mind. Just carry on …
I walked those first months after September 11, 2001 as though I was in a trance, feeling as though others led me, telling me where to go, what to do. I was afforded no consolation. My complaint remained bitter in my soul.
The groaning of my heart was not adequate to express the extent of my suffering. The grief was beyond expression. I languished in my bitterness. Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! I looked, but I could not find God. When I looked to the left, I could not see Him. When I turned to the right, He was not there. Where then could my help come from if I could not find the place of God? (Job 23:1–3; 8–9) I was in the desert and God was silent.
Shunned by God. Did He really turn His back on me? It seemed that way. Is this what it is to be truly alone? I felt an empty silence that followed me everywhere I went.
Where was the justice, where was the help? God had thrown me into this dark place and left me standing alone. I was lost and could not find my way. Yet, where was God? Though I cried out, my words fell on deaf ears and no help came, no comfort. My life is but a shadow, already it has faded. “He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone; My hope He has uprooted like a tree.” (Job 19:7–10)
Though God was silent, the American people were not. It was as if a band of brothers rose to lift us up. Those flags, those beautiful flags fluttering in the breeze, they were everywhere: lining streets, hanging from buildings and houses and overpasses. It was as though some hidden national pride awakened after the terrorists’ attacks. Solidarity. We Americans may fight among ourselves like siblings, but don’t mess with one of us or you will have to deal with all of us.
My father was a patriot. Often a tear could be seen tracing a path down his cheek when the national anthem was played. Forever the flag, those beautiful stars and stripes, will be etched into my mind as a symbol of loss, of freedom, of pride.
Flags flying, bold stripes of red and white,
Brilliant stars of freedom’s might,
Remind us all that freedom is
Bought with a precious price.
The terrible acts on September 11 demonstrate that freedom is not guaranteed. How fragile we hold it, knowing that its loss is but one generation away. We must never forget all who have sacrificed so much down through the ages, and those paying for our freedoms still.
Yet, when the cost is placed upon your own life, it is hard to bear. As we think upon the evil that runs rampant in this world, it is easy to rise up and cry out, “Why God?” just as the prophet Habakkuk did as the Babylonian army marched on Jerusalem in 605 BC. There Habakkuk looked out from the wall of the city and saw the forces of Babylon encircling Jerusalem. Already, other cities had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s strength. Despair filled his heart as he raised his voice to heaven and cried, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save.” (Habakkuk 1:2)
Long had the prophet called out to God, yet no change, no help had come. God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil, the very sight of it is an abomination to Him, and He must turn away. Yet, here He looks upon those who commit evil and says nothing as the righteous are devoured. (Habakkuk 1:13) How can this be? Has God abused His patience at the expense of the righteous, the innocent? Is He not a just God?
Yet, all I can do is wait. There are no answers, no comfort, just silent waiting, frozen in place, looking into the darkness.
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said,
Streams of living water will flow from within him.
~ John 7:37–38
A few days after September 11, as I was with my family in Virginia dealing with the aftermath of terror, words began to flow through my mind. “There is a river that flows from God above. /There is a fountain, that’s filled with His great love. /Come to the water, there is a vast supply. /There is a river, that never shall run dry.” It was a song, one I did not recognize. How could I know the melody and words to a song I had never before heard? But there it was, streaming through my mind. I could not get it out. The song was with me the entire day, flowing freely through my thoughts and with me through my tears. I had no choice but to stop and listen. As I look back, I can see how God was reaching out to me, as a Shepherd who seeks after His lost sheep.
Water, water in dry places. I was in the desert, and here God offered me water, yet I could not see it. The hurt blinded me. I could not see His hand reaching down from above. He was offering me an endless stream of living water, clean, and fresh, and pure—water that would satisfy my wounded soul, not stale water that had been stored in a cistern, green with algae and waste. But water that is renewed daily as the stream flows down from above. All I need do was come. (John 4:14) Yet, I could not find my way. I could not understand the call.
My father’s death wasn’t an accident or an illness, somebody did this to him, and that makes it so much worse. My father had not done anything worthy of such hate, yet hatred killed him. He did not deserve to die in this manner. He was a gentle man, who should have lived to an old age then peacefully slip from this world into the next. Yet wishing it does not make it so.
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life.
Can you give it to them?
Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.
For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
Even the very wise cannot see all ends … That thought resonates within me. We don’t know what the result of September 11 will be down through the ages. May it be that there is a greater plan than the pain we feel right now? Some greater good that will benefit some better cause upon this world?
There are no simple answers. You can’t just say, “It was God’s will.” That thought will not float anymore. It is patronizing and it answers nothing. Acceptance is easier if we understand why. But really, what answer could God give that would justify in our eyes the death of our loved ones. There is no answer good enough that we could understand to cancel the loss we feel. Yet, often we find hope when it seems that there is nothing left to cling to.
It was the face of Evil we saw that day. Do we let Evil rule that day? Evil certainly caused the day. But do we surrender to that Evil? Or do we lift ourselves beyond the ashes to new life? What happened was definitely bad. Can good come out of it? Evil caused the day, but Love ruled it. I saw Love in the eyes of those who watched in horror as the events unfolded; compassion shone on every face. I saw Love in the unity of the American people. I saw Love in every gift given to the families from the American people, in the teddy bears and homemade cards schoolchildren gave to my children. I saw Love in the memorial quilt sewn for me in memory of my father. I saw Love in the hearts of those strangers who held hands at the moment of their death. I saw Love as the people evacuated Manhattan Island in an orderly and calm fashion. I saw Love as those firefighters and police officers entered the burning buildings to help all they could, and I saw the Love they had as they laid down their lives for a stranger. Evil may have caused the day, but Love ruled it.
That December of 2001, we laid my father to rest. We buried him on a hill in the Garden of Time under a dogwood tree. It was an icy cold day, the wind whipped across our faces, biting us as the tears flowed. As the hearse drove into view, the finality of my father’s death settled upon me. The evidence stood before me. The flag-draped casket was carried from the hearse to the waiting grave. The numbness of shock had worn off. The full force of grief hit us as the brief service concluded at the graveside. A few words were spoken, then we were quickly whisked away to shield us from the cold. As I went to get into the car, I turned and looked again at the casket. Too fast it had been. I didn’t feel as if I had really said good-bye. We all felt hollow and unsatisfied. I felt as though I had been living a funeral for three months and now it was over, and I did not know how to go on from there. The journey was not over. I still had a long way to trod. Yet, I knew that God would be with me, for He had sought me out and I had found Him.
The Lord, He never rests, nor does He ever slumber. In His sleepless vigilance, God is always watchful. He will not allow our foot to slip, but preserves us so that we can hold fast. (Psalms 121: 1–3) The foundation of Christ upon which we stand does not move. Nero is gone, Diocletian is gone, Hitler is gone, even Bin Laden is gone, but righteousness lives on. They could not destroy it; they could not silence it. Love endures. They have no hold over us if we do not let them.
Love never fails….
The story continues next week…
To learn more about my experience with September 11, 2001, read my book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.
Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story) – signed copies on SALE for only $5.00 for the month of September in honor of the victims of September 11, 2001. This special is only available through the Van Martins’ webpage: www.vanmartins.com