September 11 and Psalm 46

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I was in my first semester at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. This was the first time I had ever lived away from the small town in Texas where I had grown up. And there we were – me, as a first year graduate student, and my wife within her first few weeks of teaching 6th grade.

I had made it a goal to get to the school by 7 every morning to study for a while before classes started, so I was sitting in the study cubicles when I saw a few people running down the hall.

My curiosity was peaked, so I followed the folks to the common area where there was a small TV which generally showed only school announcements and the like. But this morning, it was tuned to the news, and it looked like the Twin Towers were on fire. What followed was wild speculation about what had happened. Was there a fire in the towers? Someone had said that a plan had crashed on its way to the airport. We stood there watching the smoke and then the second plane struck.

We watched. Few spoke. And without words, everyone knew – not just in that small room, but all over the world – knew that this was a dividing point in history. There was life before 9/11, and there would be life after 9/11.

I’ll never forget it. Where were you, I wonder? Surely your memory of that day is a vivid as mine, for I was afraid.

Here was a day when Psalm 46 took on new meaning to me:

God is our refuge and strength,
a helper who is always found
in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not be afraid,
though the earth trembles
and the mountains topple
into the depths of the seas,
though its water roars and foams
and the mountains quake with its turmoil.

Yes, it felt like the mountains were toppling. That which was most stable seemed to be upending. The waters of my soul seemed to be roaring and foaming with this new revelation. The bubble of insulation had burst; the illusion of safety was put into stark reality.

Yet such moments – such terrible, awful moments – also hold opportunity. It’s an opportunity that is not, and perhaps should not, be realized in the moment, for doing so can serve as a denial for the horrible events that are unfolding before your eyes. But here we stand, many years later, remembering again one of the days that the world changed forever. And in the years since, with the gift of time as our aid, we are able to read the psalm in full and see that yes, the mountains will topple. Yes, the waters will roar and foam. And, later in the psalm, that nations will rage and kingdoms will rise and fall. But in the midst of it all, there is still something stable. Secure. Sound. Foundational.

Psalm 46 helps us recognize the reality of the moment, for there are dual realities happening at the same time. The reality of suffering and evil does not change the reality of the stability of God. For as the mountains are topping, there is yet a refuge to whom we can run. Such days – days like today – are opportunities for us to not only grieve, but to remind ourselves from where true security comes. It’s only from our refuge and strength. The One who made the mountains and the seas. The One who, through Jesus, has demonstrated that He is indeed our ever present help in times of trouble.

This is a word for today. A strong word for a terrible day.

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