Posted by: njs44 | September 11, 2010

9 years on

Today is the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. There have been many ways in which this anniversary has been remembered. One of the most poignant articles I have read on the subject was from today’s Guardian, written by Donna Marsh O’Connor, the mother of one of those killed in the World Trade Centre. She presents an account which is devoid of self-pity and free from any desire for revenge. She describes the first time she saw ‘Ground Zero’ as follows:

At the end of that morning the height of glory turned to three scenes that were not like hell on earth. Ground Zero, as it has come to be called, looked like nothing I could ever have imagined in my imaginings of hell. I remember the black mounds of earth and rubble, fires still burning a month later in multiple places, the smell of melted flesh mingled with fuel and everything that could possibly burn and all of this framed by the protruding black gothic spears of steel. And my baby girl somewhere in the pile of it all.

I remember thinking, as I looked upon it for the first time, that God and the devil were both crying at the horror only men could make.

We all ask, from time to time, ‘where is God?’ It is the fundamental question people ask at times of pain, suffering and disaster. If  people of faith cannot answer this question, then atheists will remain atheists and even people of faith will fall into despair. So it was with relief that I listened to the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, answer the same question when it was put to him by Lisa Jardine in a recent BBC programme he made, The Case for God.

Sacks said that he thinks you can divide religions into three types. One group faces suffering with acceptance, saying it is the will of God. Another takes what he calls the consolation approach, where believers look forward to a time, in another life, perhaps, when wrongs will be put right. The third, and Judaism is this kind, is a religion of protest, a religion which protests stridently, argues fiercely against suffering, against tragedy. This is the faith of Job who challenges God, the faith of Jacob who wrestles with God, the faith of all those who stand up and are counted in the fight against all that is wrong. As Sacks puts it,

God is in the prophetic voice that is willing to challenge the crowd. God calls out to us to help him eliminate evil from the human heart.

So for me, God is in all of us who stand, horrified, at the sight of Ground Zero 9 years ago. God is in the parents who mourn, in the survivors who remember and also in those people who ask the question ‘why does God allow suffering?’ God cannot prevent suffering, but he can, and does, give us the will to overcome it, to fight it, to prevent it leading us to give up in the face of evil.

Jonathan Sacks can be seen, until the evening of Monday 13th September, at

Donna Marsh O’Connor’s article can be found at

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