Today is September 11th, 2013. I have been married exactly 12 years, 1 month, and 7 days, and yet I remember September 11th, 2001 as a newlywed, just like it was yesterday. We all do. Everyone remembers. Every one of us can recall where we were, what we were doing, whom we were with, the day such terror shook our nation, reducing the mighty twin towers to a rubble of twisted metal and dust. We recall the images that flashed, one by one, burying a tender piece of each one of us, and our sense of security, along with our fellow Americans at ground zero.
American life was lost that day. Not only the 2,977 victims, but the innocence we have long enjoyed as the leader of 1st world countries. Safe. Secure. Privileged. So in the wake of that fateful day, as families buried loved ones, the rest of us had to decide what to do with that bit of us which had died alongside them. Would we burry our faith and trust? Or would we allow our faith to resurrect, increase, and soar, as a Phoenix from the aftermath?
Knee deep in the emotional rubble of evil, terror, and hate we always have that choice. The choice to believe not just in the power of good, but in the power of a good and loving God. O, the debris that holds us down is deep. Isn't it? Deep and ugly and twisted. And it boggles my mind how evil rages throughout the globe today. Not just memories of the evil; but real and living, sulfer breathing, chemical warfare producing, raping and pilliaging evil; roaming around, devouring human life.
And I thought of the Gutenberg Bible on display at the Huntington Library. I thought of the cool, dark room where it sits for all to see. And I thought of the elderly man who stood beside me looking at the gold-leafed, brilliantly illustrated pages a few years ago. We spoke of the historic achievement of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press, among other things. It was a nice, albeit short, conversation. And when he turned to leave I said something I never say to a stranger. Maybe it was simply the presence of the Bible in the room, or the very Spirit of God leading us into what would come. I said, "God Bless you today."
What happened next I doubt I'll ever forget, as sharp an imprint on my memory as the early morning news of 9/11. He turned to me with twisted face and hissed, "God? God ?" And then he rolled up his sleeve and laid his forearm bare. The numbers on his old thin skin spoke of an evil unfathomable. "God? You really believe there is a God? A God who would allow this... evil?" Shaking his fragile fist, and looking imploringly into my eyes he waited for an answer.
This is what spilled out of my mouth that hot afternoon, out into the cool, dark room where history is stored. "I am so sorry you've had to endure such hatred. But God is real, and He does love you, Sir. However, this much I know to be true: God can't make us love Him back. He gives us all the freedom to love Him. And that is love. A loving God wouldn't force us like slaves to love Him back. Would He? No, he lets us choose love. But with the freedom to choose love comes the freedom to choose hate. And evil. And those who chose evil did evil to you. But God does love you, Sir. He does." We both stood there, strangers, with tears rolling down our faces. His old and weathered, and mine still young. Both wet.
He took aa step back, and said, "I've never thought of it like that." And then he turned away from me again and walked away.
Today I recall 9/11, and the Holocaust, and the freedom God gives to mankind. To choose. To love. To hate. To run to Him. To be reborn. From the ashes.
It's never too late to turn to God, in your freedom, and choose love.
Humbled by my train of thought today.