Of the many questions we grapple with about 9/11, the one I hear most often from people of every faith is, “Where was God?”
The question itself presents an obstacle, because language cannot adequately describe God. The Divine is often referred to as a pronoun: “He”. “Him”. “The Lord”. The Christians faith, of course, a father and son in addition to Holy Spirit.
I was privileged to learn a different way of thinking about God from one of our greatest living Jewish thinkers, Rabbi Harold Schulweis. He suggested thinking of God as a verb. That is, we can always find God in action. You may think of God as an adverb, and so by acting in concert with the Divine Spirit, we engage in acts of Godliness.
So where was God on September 11th. The same place where God was during the Holocaust. As Rabbi Schulweis tells us:
“How do you speak to your children of death, of six million, and then in the next breath…teach them…that men and women are created in God’s image…Where do you look to overcome Holocaustal despair? Where do you look for God or His image? There is evidence – hard, empirical evidence – of a powerful phenomenon from out of the hell of Auschwitz that is curiously neglected, unattended, untaught, unheralded, denied memory.
With me, it began in the 60s. I have met Gentiles, Christian men and women, flesh and blood beings from all walks of life and from every country occupied or intimidated by the Nazis, who risked life, limb, wealth of their families to hide and protect and save members of our people. Christian rescuers of another faith who hid our kin in closets, attics, sewers, pigsties, garbage bins, baking stoves, and holes in the ground…who falsified passports and baptismal certificates with full awareness that apprehension meant incarceration or death.”
My friends, God was in the actions of these people.
Likewise, God was there on September 11th.
On September 11th, God was present in Rick Roscorla, a Vietnam Veteran who evacuated 2,700 Dean Witter employees from the World Trade Center, returned inside to help others and died when the South Tower collapsed.
The same with Welles Crowther, a mere 24 years old, who helped others to safety before he perished when the South Tower Collapsed.
Construction workers Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz saved 77 people on the 88th floor of the North Tower.
God was present in the brave first responders, the firefighters who entered the Twin Towers solely on a mission to rescue others.
God was present in our brothers and sisters of every race, every nationality, every neighborhood, who took the hands of the injured and tended to them, who poured water over their eyes to soak away the dust, who pulled strangers inside as the debris cloud plowed its way through lower Manhattan.
Most of all, perhaps, God was inside the cabin of United Flight 93.
God was present in the men and women whose stories will never be known, never be shared, and never be spoken of.
And God remains present today, in every act of Godliness that you and I perform.