An Opportunity to Forgive

By Marcy Barthelette
It was an ordinary Tuesday morning. The nation was awaking to a new day. Workers crowded New York City sidewalks. Commuters were hopping the subway to settle in for their journeys, others were hailing taxis; coffee & newspapers in hand. Thoughts ranged from daytime projects to evening plans with family but all had one singular goal; getting to their destinations safely and on time. It was a Tuesday just like any other when the unthinkable happened. At 8:46 AM, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I was enjoying a quiet morning at home when my husband called to say that he had heard a news flash on the radio telling of a plane accidentally striking the World Trade Center. He asked me to turn on the TV and relay any updates to him at work. The images I saw were unbelievable and I hadn’t recovered from my impressions of the damage from that first strike when a second plane plowed into the South Tower leaving a sky filled with flames and smoke. It was when the third plane struck the Pentagon minutes later that I began to weep uncontrollably for a loss so profound that I could find no comfort. Images depicting the absence of human caring struck my very soul. By now the world knew that these were calculated attacks. How does one human do this terrible thing to another?
There first must be a painful experience for there to be a need for forgiveness. Think about that. God knew, when He gave us free will, that we would break the rules. Call it human nature or give it any other name you choose, we will make mistakes. We will hurt others and we will be hurt by others. God’s plan from the beginning was to send His Son to walk on the earth with us, to dine with us, to heal us, to teach us. But He also knew that wouldn’t be enough. There had to be an act of forgiveness so great that it could save us all because we couldn’t save ourselves. And so it was decided that God would sacrifice His precious Son and the Son would accept His assignment. From that day forward there was no sin too big to be forgiven.
Years have not erased the sting of the 9-11 attacks, but perhaps they have altered my perspective. Only now am I able to see that horrific event as the painful experience that opened a door to the opportunity for forgiveness. We don’t know if any of those who accomplished this deed changed their minds at the last minute and asked God to forgive them but we do know that, if they asked, forgiveness was offered, just as it was to the criminal on the cross beside Jesus.
As I see it, there are three types of non-Christians in this world. There are those who once believed and have turned away from Jesus. There are those who know the basics of Christianity but have never believed because of family tradition, environment, or other reasons. And there are those who have never heard the name of Jesus. The important thing to remember is that God loves everyone one of us and He wants each one to invite Him in, regardless of the path taken before accepting Him. There is no behavior or belief so bad that it can’t be forgiven if we come before God in true repentance. As followers of Jesus, we are offered an opportunity to carry the light of Jesus to the darkest corners of the earth and into the deepest recesses of our hearts. It is our calling to live as He did and show His love to all people and, in doing so, perhaps some will hear His call and answer. Where do we find that kind of love in the wake of an event so horrific as that on September 11, 2001?

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible,
so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves,
but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Romans 12:17-19

  I will start by remembering those who died that day, those who perpetrated the attacks and those who fell victim. I pray that they knew Jesus in those final moments before death took them. I will remember the families of those who were lost and pray that, if they have not done so, they will hear the still, small voice of God and open their hearts to a personal relationship through the Son. I will remember the sacrifice of all first responders and remain aware that even today they are still suffering and dying from toxic exposures during the weeks that followed the attacks. They and their families will be in my prayers for comfort and grace.
I am certainly a flawed human and I don’t claim to have laid aside all malice toward those who hurt us so badly as a nation or even situations with a more personal connection, but I’m working on it. If there was ever a work in progress, I fit the description. My heart breaks every year when I see the images aired once more. It stirs feelings I want to put to rest. Like Peter and then Paul, my forward steps often falter. I find myself taking more steps back. But the opportunity is there for me to forgive and I’m trying because He asks me to and I don’t like being guilty of wounding Him more.
He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes. He bore the punishment
that made us whole; by His wounds (stripes) we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
Forgiveness frees the giver! I know that sounds contrary to logic but carrying anger is a heavy weight that drags us down and creates a separation between us and God. It also hurts us and the ones who love us. By letting go, we free ourselves of that burden. The person(s) we forgive may never know because they are gone or are unwilling to hear our words. But God will hear us and that’s what truly matters.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Matthew 5:44
However you choose to respond to the events of that particular day in our history, remember that any time we feel wronged or under any circumstances when anger or hurt fill our hearts, the door of opportunity to forgive is thrown open wide. Walk through and give those feelings to God. Forgiveness, sometimes slowly and painfully, breaks the chains of anger and frees the giver to take those important steps toward becoming more like Him.

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