Where was God on Sept. 11?

Rev. Nancy Rockwell
First Congregational Church UCC
Melrose, MA

What does it mean to say that God is a Good Shepherd who searches for and finds the lost, in the wake of the cataclysm in New York?  It isn't enough of an answer to say God was heartbroken, as if God were a bystander, watching these events in horror as we did.  It doesn't do God justice and it isn't fair to our sense of injustice, either.

The same problems occur for me in the story of Cain and Abel. You know the tale:  Cain's envy rises and he turns against his brother Abel, who is a good, guileless, fruitful man. And God warns Cain, "sin is crouching at the door, its desire is for you and you must master it."  But Cain kills Abel, and "the very ground cries out" we are told, in response to the shedding of this innocent blood.

The hard part of the story is that God does not prevent Cain from killing.  Nor did God prevent Joseph's brothers from selling him into slavery.  Or Jesus from being crucified.  This is not the way I'd like to have these stories turn out, but there it is, God's work in the story is to call us to choose good, and to renew the blessing that has been broken.

In the end, Cain survives, as do Joseph, his brothers, and Jesus.  God doesn't give up on anyone. Even in the midst of evil, say the stories, God is working to bring about good; and in the midst of despair, to bring about hope; in the midst of death, to bring about life.  So wherever the intersection of evil and good are, that's the cross.  And if we use this lens to understand that Tuesday, we were watching scenes of crucifixion.  

In such scenes, life has the power to rise again.  And in fact, there was an amazing amount of life rising last Tuesday, in the midst of all that death.   A  man and a woman jumped together holding hands. Two men lifted a woman from her wheelchair and carried her on their backs down 80 flights of stairs.  200 firemen ran up into the inferno.  And many made last cell phone calls, to say I love you.   

They show us that even in the midst of evil, a tremendous love pulses.  Evil does not have the last word, in fact it will diminish as a word, because of the way love rises in its midst and from its ashes.    And these deeds, words, acts, become the Last Words from Sept. 11's cross.

This is not the way I would like the story of that Tuesday to end. I would have traded my moral freedom, to make a deal where God stopped the hijackers, and all the other people I fear in this world. But if it were possible to make this trade, I think in the end I would not like it, for I would miss all the amazing acts of ordinary human love that people freely choose to do every day, even in the shadow of death.  And I would miss in every day the renewing presence of God.   

Sacred stories always end with God rising, in order that shameful deeds need not be feared as if they were the triumph of evil over good.  To honor Tuesday's dead, to bring to their deaths a meaning that does not condemn them to the shadow of evil for eternity, I need to let them rise in the palpable presence of love, and to recognize the work that God was doing there.