9/11 occurred on a Tuesday. The rest of that week we shuffled along in shock and grief, just about doing daily work yet all the time hearing fresh stories of bereavement and courage. On Sunday it was likely that the church would have packed congregations at all three services. Indeed, that was true nationwide. I was in the middle of a preaching series on Abraham. That would not do! What would? My old notes have brought it back to me.
Psalm 46 helped me - would it be right? Written in a mega disaster, a terrifying collision between good and evil with language of things falling that should not fall, it seemed to resonate terribly. The psalmist calls people in disaster to the one and only source of refuge, strength, a fortress that cannot fall or be shaken - GOD. When nothing else seems certain go back to the centre of reality -GOD IS OUR REFUGE.
I emphasized how God does not offer escape from reality. Some people accuse Christians of escapists from real life. No, coming to God is not opting out. God is not our protector against trouble; he is our refuge and strength, a very present help IN trouble. God does not secure us against disasters happening but within disasters he is there holding us. So much we don't know. Billy Graham was asked why God had allowed 9/11, 'I have to say honestly that I don't know, that I can't answer that completely to my own satisfaction.'
And secondly, therefore we shall not fear. You might think that the psalmist would say: 'Therefore I shall be safe, I shall be protected'. But fear is what we felt when the towers fell. Scared about what this meant for America, about coping with grief and anger. This psalm is one of the few where God speaks directly. BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. Sometimes we take that out of context and apply it to our busyness and activism. That's OK. But it's context makes it clear that God addresses scared, terrorized people for whom everything seems to be falling apart. What really matters in our fears is to know that God is unshaken, exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth. He holds our futures and the future of the earth in his hands. He has the final word over evil, shattered in the cross and to be consummated in the return of Christ.
I shall never forget that week (like so many who lived through it) and that psalm really helps me today.