On September 11th, 2001 I was finishing up a breakfast meeting with a fellow youth pastor, Nick Simpson at a great little spot on Broadway in Nyack, NY where I lived. The spot was called “Strawberry Place”. I can’t remember what I had to eat but when we walked up to the counter to pay for our breakfast, we found ourselves in the horrific shock of all the other humans around us at that moment. Nyack is in the shadow of New York City, a small town nestled directly on the Hudson River. In fact, the backyard of our home WAS the Hudson River. And in this bedroom town of NYC, we felt the shockwaves of steel colliding with steel just minutes away. I left Strawberry Place immediately and went directly to the church office. Hysterics of the attacks were there, too. Right away, our church office became a clearinghouse of sorts for the donations of supplies that would be needed in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. One of my youth ministry interns was a volunteer EMT and he went directly into the city as soon as he could to offer his help. He was assigned a number and it was written in bold black permanent marker on all his limbs, for obvious reasons.
This morning, 6 years later to the day, I woke up with a kind of involuntary somberness. The morning seemed heavy and a smile seemed unnatural and forced. It was as if my subconscious knows precisely what day it is and knows exactly what happened on this day.
I poured my morning coffee and as I turned on my under-the-cabinet tv in the kitchen, the screen warmed and dissolved into the very imagery I just want to erase but can never forget. For me, like many–there is burned to our psyche the image of a living person freefalling next to the World Trade Center. Unfathomably faced with the choice of burning to their death or falling to their death. As much as I can grasp that, the logic seems to say that the latter would be quick while the former would be excruciating and drawn out. Nevermind that. Imagine having to make that choice at all. I was sickened all over again this morning in my kitchen, 6 years from the fact, but thrust right back to that day. I felt anger and hatred welling up in my heart and mind toward the people who birthed the thought, planned the day, and carried out the act. As a man of God, I’m ashamed to say that I have thought terrible thoughts, profane thoughts, and unholy thoughts toward those who terrorized America that day–and in some way, every day following since.
I stewed there for several minutes this morning in my kitchen. Until I somehow put it aside to get on with the day, caring for getting the kids breakfast and off to school on time. Later today though, I just couldn’t not think more about that hatred I’ve felt. And then it happened. A thought that perhaps thousands, even millions have thought. Those, at least, who know and understand something of the character of God. And this God is not the god of extremist Islam. This God is not the god who turns planes into missile bombs. This God is the God of the Bible. This God is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. This God is the triune perfection–the Creator of the universe and the ground we walk on and the air we breathe. And this God loves those who hated America enough to so atrociously attack it. God loves them. God loves them. God loves them with an everlasting love. God loves them. God’s Son, Jesus–whoa this is hard to embrace–died for those men who took control of those planes.
The love of God has never been dependent on reciprocation. And whether humans deny the very existance of God or acknowledge Him to whatever degree, He loves. He reaches. He just loves.
Did the events of September 11th 2001 anger this God? I truly believe that they did. I believe this God seaths with anger toward any injustice, let alone one of this magnitude. I believe God mourned and grieved that day the way He mourns and grieves every day over the lostness of His creation.
This day in history will never ever be forgotten. No one will allow history not to tell the events of this day every year on this date, if not every day of every year. It’s just too large to let go of.
But here in the mourning, a choice is made–we either stay in hatred; willing the very fire of hell to burn hotter over the flesh of those who flew those planes; Or we take the side of their Creator. We choose to redeem this day, to redeem this memory, and to redeem this country.