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Looking at God from Ground Zero

Memory fades. Time and distance work gradually on us until the unbearable images of 9/11 and the ensuing nightmares finally release their grip - at least for those of us who didn't suffer personal losses.

We're sleeping peacefully through the night again. Air travel may be fraught with long lines, delays, and inconveniences in the aftermath of 9/11. But once the cabin door slams shut and the plane rolls onto the tarmac, we're back to reading books again, dozing off for in-flight naps, and laughing out loud over comedy re-runs. We're no longer nervously assessing other passengers or having our blood run cold at every thump of turbulence or unfamiliar noise.

Sometimes a fading memory can be a blessing. Sleepless nights and fear of flying can be debilitating. Sometimes, however, fading memories take away too much from us. We may be feeling better. But have we timidly tiptoed away from important questions we're supposed to be asking? Have we politely excused ourselves from wrestling with God when a smoldering Ground Zero compels us to engage?

I cringe along with everyone else when Larry King puts some Christian leader on the spot with "Where was God on 9/11?" or "Have you lost your faith?" But what makes me even more uncomfortable is when the losses are more personal and the awkward questions are coming from the tear-splotched pages of my private journal or from the lips of some hurting person who has turned to me for help.

Surprisingly, the Bible doesn't share my discomfort or shy away from tough questions about God. The writers of Scripture don't edit out sections of the story that make God look bad. To the contrary, they are brutally honest about the evil in this world, the suffering that results, and the questions that naturally arise about God from tragic situations he has the power to prevent, but doesn't. These writers take us right up to the edge where, in the company of fellow-strugglers like Job, Abraham, Naomi, Hannah, David, Habakkuk, Jonah, and others, we confront the mysteries of a God who regularly baffles us, and we cannot fully explain.

Their honesty is a gift to us, for it opens the door for us to be honest too when God makes no sense to us and we are struggling to trust him. It is a gift we as leaders can pass on to others as we are open about the fact that we don't have all the answers and we wrestle with doubts too.

This kind of honesty was a mercy to me last December when my brother-in-law, Kelly James, and his two climbing partners died on Mount Hood and my family faced our own Ground Zero. I found Naomi (now upgraded from a bitter complainer to a female Job) to be good company - better than someone who is trying to talk me out of being sad or giving superficial answers to an ache that runs bone deep.

Little by little I'm learning that, although the intense grief and bad dreams may subside, the questions are important for they compel us to look more closely at God and strive to understand him better. God invites our honesty for this is where he does some of the deepest work in the soul of his child and where faith, instead of being destroyed, miraculously flourishes.

We may be able to sleep once more, and I for one think that is a good thing. But may we never forget the events of 9/11 and may the memories of that infamous day drive us fearlessly to probe the heart of our great God.

September11, 2007 at 8:40 AM

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