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My God, my God!

Responding to Tragedy
Reflections on the Afternoon of September 11, 2001

Dennis Bratcher

In the aftermath of the unspeakable tragedy of this day, it will be easy for Christians to retreat to the security of feelings of vengeance, justice, and patriotism. It is a natural response. But it is just such times as this that we must be deliberately Christian. It is not an easy response. Our first response is always emotional. That is why there are all those psalms of lament in Scripture that cry out to God from the depths of our pain and anger. And we need to pray them today and in the days to come.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psa 22:1)

I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me. My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, "O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest." (Psa 55:2b-8)

How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. (Psa 13:2-4)

We do not understand how our world can be so evil, and wonder if God has somehow fallen silent.

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect. They say, "Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more." They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant. (Psa 83:1-5)

O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan, and they say, "The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive." (Psa 94:3-7)

And if we are honest, beyond all the piety we want to muster and beyond all the fašade of religious language with which we usually mask our deeper feelings, there is the emotion. There are all those feelings of justice and even vengeance that want the evil in the world to be silenced ruthlessly, and want those who perpetrate such suffering and horror to experience some form of immediate retribution.

O LORD, you God of vengeance, you God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve! (Psa 94:1-2)

Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon, who were destroyed at Endor, who became dung for the ground. . . . O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane. Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace. Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth. (Psa 83:9-18)

And sometimes the pain of that emotion goes beyond general expressions of justice into feelings of vengeance and hatred.

Blessed shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Blessed shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! (Psa 137:8b-9)

These psalms are the expression of the deepest of human emotions of uncertainty, betrayal, fear, horror, and even hatred. And yet, they are all prayers to God. They are honest. They acknowledge what we feel when faced with the unspeakable. And yet they call us to prayer with those emotions. They call us to be honest with who we are as human beings. But they call us to take those feelings to God, openly and honestly, and leave them there in trust.

It is only in being able to cry those emotions to God that we can then pray the prayers of trust that come at the end of these psalms. It is only then that we can move from hurt to trust, that we can move from the despair of knowing that the world has changed and will never again be the same, to realizing that God is still God no matter how great is the magnitude of our pain and loss.

That does not make the pain go away. But such honesty is the only way to live in a world that we often experience as evil and that will never be "safe." It is that honesty before God that we begin to move toward genuine trust. At the conclusion of one of those emotionally honest prayers is this testimony:

If the LORD had not been my help, my life would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, "My foot is slipping," your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who contrive mischief by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous, and condemn the innocent to death. But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. (Psa 94:17-22)

And one of the strongest prayers of trust in the Old Testament comes in the midst of the greatest ending that Israel experienced, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple:

But as for me, I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. 3:19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; (Hab 3:18-19a)

For Christians, we who are citizens of another Kingdom, this is not a time for patriotism. For we who are Christians, this is not a time to proclaim ourselves Americans in the face of the world and begin to talk of political strategies or legal options. This is the time to be who we are, people of God, people of Faith, who live in a world that is often all too evil, and yet fired by a hope that transcends nations and rulers, military power and terrorists. And so, "Out of the depths [we] cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear [our] voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of [our] supplications! (Psa 130:1b-2).

In so doing, we cry our emotions to God, all the while trusting in the Lord of all human history to work through us for the healing of the nations. We pray not only that he will give us the courage and strength to deal with this ourselves, but that in the midst of the darkness, we may emerge as the light to the nations that Isaiah envisioned. And we pray that God, in his grace and sovereignty, may work in His own way in this horror of human evil and sin.

May He begin that work in each of us as we scream our anger and pain at God, and then turn in our tears to be Christ to the world.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2013, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved
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