These last months have been racked with tragedy. Sandy Hook Elementary, the Boston Marathon, the stabbings at Lone Star College, the pipeline bursting in Arkansas, just yesterday an explosion in West, Texas.
I remember after September 11, how I voraciously read everything I could about the victims, about the terrorists.
I wanted an answer. I wanted to know why. Where was God?
Tears streamed down my face as I read account after account of husbands lost, wives who jumped, firemen dying selflessly, children left behind, unlikely people melded into heroes in the heat of burning buildings. I wrote. I prayed. I mourned. United with millions of other Americans, I pushed on, willing our country to survive, willing our spirits to heal.
I joined the host of writers trying to express, in some way, the horror, shock, pain, sorrow felt by all Americans. I was compelled to write of the darkest day in American history I had ever seen.
When I heard the news, I was driving. I listened, dry-eyed, to the reports, and when the news anchors could no longer hold it together, I blinked and stared unseeingly out the windows of my car.
A dark cloud descended on the country. People everywhere called their sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers just to make sure they were OK. I called my mother to hear her voice, reassuring me that everything was OK, but everything was not OK. Everything had changed.
I thought of my brothers and sisters in the armed forces. I prayed hollow prayers for them. I thought of the firemen and policemen at the scene. I prayed words I don’t remember.
C.S. Lewis writes, “If you’ve been up all night and cried until you have no more tears left in you, you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.” A stillness settled on me and those around me in the days and weeks following September 11.
(from my journals, 2001)
My baby brother, a Marine, would be called into Active Duty and ship out with the first troops headed to the sandbox. Those years in Iraq would change him forever, taking hostage the fun-loving carefree boy he was; returning to us a man with dark eyes and guarded heart. He saw things that would haunt him forever.
Since that day, we have seen more tragedy than I know what to do with. It seems like every other day, I turn on the news to find that some other tragedy has struck: leaving this family without a son, leaving that congregation without a pastor, leaving this family homeless… and I want an answer. I want to know why.
I insulate myself from reading about it now… from seeing too much.
Voiced or silent, my lips form the question again: Where is God?
I don’t understand why we suffer, and, as a human, I want to assign meaning to the suffering. I want it to have a purpose. If there is a purpose to all this madness, it is beyond me. My faith does not now include a God who is playing us as marionettes on strings, orchestrating all that happens for his higher purpose. What a cruel God.
But I think my question about God’s whereabouts has an answer: God is here.
God is in my arms when I wrap my children up in hugs so tight they squeal. God is in the shaking fingers of photojournalists, documenting the suffering of strangers. God is in outpourings of love and generosity from neighbors and friends and even perfect strangers miles away. God is in the questioning eyes of children who don’t understand why this happened, and God is in the fireman’s eyes who meet their gaze and tell them it will be ok. God is in the tiny truths we tell each other about how we will heal. God is in words of love whispered, hands held tightly, prayers lifted, cleanup started, and communities coming together. God is even in the half-lies we tell each other to soothe and comfort: “Someday this will not hurt so bad. You will heal.”
I believe that God is in the Love.
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
(Opening monologue of the movie, Love, Actually)