Fifteen years ago this Sunday, the skies were cleared of planes as dust continued to settle over Manhattan. The nation held its breath. Each man, woman, and child waited in hope that their loved ones were alive. Shock drove many back to church seeking some meaning, some way to respond.
Then anger set in.
We vowed revenge, found someone to blame, and set our teeth in hatred. To this day, the image of the towers falling threatens to stir our sleeping rage. How hot our anger was in the months that followed!
Then on Holy Saturday 2002, a firefighter sorting through rubble found a Bible melted to a girder. The Bible was fused shut and mostly illegible, but much of Matthew 5 could still be made out: “Ye have heard it said, thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemies. But I saith unto thee…” Here, the tear in the Bible cuts off the rest of the passage, but the written word is unnecessary. Ages of Christian culture have seared the following words into our collective consciousness. “Love your enemies … pray for those who persecute you.”
The words of Christ must never become rote drivel or meaningless complacencies in our lives. But sometimes one teaching or another just seems too hard.
The preacher squawks out, “love your enemies,” and we contently nod our heads, like so many bobbleheads on Route 80 through Pennsylvania. Then the planes hit.
How can we love these people who hurt us so much? Forgive. What does that mean?
People say, “forgive and forget.” But does this mean forgetting the many beloved men and women who died September 11, 2001? Even if we could forget the lives of those who died, should we? Each life is a unique image of God that has never been seen before and is never to be seen again. To forget even one of them would be a crime. We can never forget.
Given that we can never forget those who died, can we ever forgive those who killed them?
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack of 9/11, responses in our nation varied: anger and forgiveness, hatred and love. I say that of these four, hatred is the only one which has no place. Forgiveness and love do not preclude anger. Anger may be a very hot and volatile emotion, but it is the proper emotional response to injustice, and the intensity of anger should correspond to the degree of injustice. Jesus Himself was angry at the defilement of the Temple. The slaughter of almost 3000 of our peers is truly worthy of our anger.
So what does it mean to forgive those whose actions are worthy of our anger?
It means looking at the man driving the nail into your hand and loving him as the image of God he truly is, albeit marred by his hatred. Forgiveness is desiring the salvation of that man’s soul, despite your anger that he would commit such an injustice.
“Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
Jesus sees us in our sin, our sin which nailed Him to the Cross, and loves us anyways. Shouldn’t we try to do the same?
Image: Carol M. Highsmith, Battery Park City and the former Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.