The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

A NATION MOURNS

Delivered 9/14/01
Text: Job 1:1-3 (13-21)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

At 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning September 11th, our world changed. Just as things have never been the same since December 7, 1941, they will never be the same from here on. So many questions confront us and so few answers are available. As I watched the TV, listened to the radio, listened to people, talked with children, attended prayer vigils, and met with other clergy, I have been struck by the questions: How can people be so evil? What did all those innocent people do to deserve that? Where is God?

Questions are so hard to answer in tragic times. But we ask questions nonetheless. If you were to take a tour of the Bible you would find that one book has a disproportionate number of questions - the book of Job. Job has over 330 questions in it's 42 chapters. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, only has 160. Matthew, the first book of the New Testament has around 180. And that's odd because it seems that Jesus was asking questions every time he opened his mouth. Even the book of Psalms with its 150 chapters has only 160.(1)

So why does the book of Job have so many more questions? Simple. It is because the book of Job deals with a horrible tragedy, and we ALL question tragedy.

You remember. Job is a righteous man. A great man in his own time. Suddenly, without warning, his family and business is wiped out. Two rogue groups from Arabia and Mesopotamia conduct a raid taking away Job's livestock and putting his servants to the sword. Then his family is lost in a freak accident when a mighty wind sweeps in from the desert, striking the four corners of the house, collapsing it and all are lost. It was swift. It was unwarranted. It was unconscionable.

In many ways the events of this past week seem eerily echoed in the story of Job. Our very large family, our very robust economy has been hit and hit hard. Now what?

We do what Job did when he learned of his loss. We mourn. He was silent when he received the first two reports that his business and livestock had been wiped out. But when he received the news that his children were lost, he got up and tore his robe. Then, he feel on his knees and wept: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will return." Everything that had meaning in his life was gone. As he came into this world so Job felt he was leaving it - naked.

As the news poured in, we learned that many of our nation's family were lost: Dads, moms, sisters, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. The news has shown the faces and told the stories and the mourning has rippled across the country. We grieve for every individual lost, every family torn apart. We weep for our nation, not because it has been weakened - it has not - we mourn because of our loss.

The story of Job is the Bible's way of saying even the most righteous and best of this earth are not immune to evil. Just because we are good does not mean we are protected from bad.

Job's friends could not comprehend what had happened. In the wonderful poetry that makes up most of the Old Testament epic, Job's pals come to him and say, in effect, you must have brought this on yourself - only those who have done evil perish. They were wrong.

In the wake of Tuesday's horrific events, I have heard well-intentioned people of faith say almost the same thing - that this was God's way of giving our nation a moral "wake-up call" and we should get our national house in order. I am sorry - I cannot go along with that. Make no mistake, this was NOT God's will - God may indeed make some good to come out of it, but this was NOT God's will!

Where was God on Tuesday? Or where is God in the midst of any tragedy? In Elie Wiesel's book Night,(2) he tells the story of his experience as a prisoner in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. One day when the prisoners came back from the work detail, they saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place. Three victims in chains were waiting, one of them a sad-eyed youth of about 14 or 15. The SS seemed more disturbed than usual, for to hang a boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The prisoners were stood on rickety chairs, nooses were placed around the three necks. `Long live liberty,' cried the two adults. But the boy was silent.

Wiesel said, "Someone behind me asked, `Where is God? Where is He?'"

At the signal from the commandant, the chairs were tipped over and there was total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. Many of the prisoners in the crowd were weeping. In a few moments they were marched past the gallows. The two adults were dead, but the third rope was still moving. Being so light, the young boy was still alive. For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death. The prisoners had to stay and watch, not allowed to turn away, looking at him full in the face.

Behind Wiesel the same voice came again...the same question again: "Where is God now? Where is He?"

And Elie Wiesel quietly replied, "There he is. He is hanging on those gallows."

Where was God this week? Hear me now. God was in those four planes. God has been in the fireman's suit, behind police badges, holding a scalpel and a syringe. And God is with us now. The promise of the psalmist remains, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me."

Amen!


1. Brett Blair, "A Nation Mourns," http://www.esermons.com

2. New York, Hill and Wang, 1960

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