The world’s terrible fragility

Much of the rest of the day I lay there on my back watching the endless TV replays of the unspeakably beautiful September morning with the plane, golden in the early sun, aimed like an arrow at the second tower. I have always known the world is fragile and life is fragile and my own small life more fragile still as it enters its last chapter, but like most of us I had never really known before that for all its purple mountains’ majesty and fruited plains with God’s grace shed upon them as golden as the September sun, America the heartbreakingly, heartbrokenly beautiful, is fragile too. If the events of September 11 could happen here, I suddenly realized, then anything could happen anytime and anywhere. There was no place on the planet to escape terror. 

After a few days I reached the point where I could walk a few halting steps all bent over an aluminum walker, but I don’t remember any thought of God’s somehow walking with me. In fact, I don’t remember thinking much about God at all. God seemed remote and ectoplasmic compared to the devastation that had taken place in New York. I believe I thought mostly about my grandchildren, the then eight small boys and one small girl who are the bright stars of my old age, and about what lay ahead for them in a future I would not live to see. Anthrax was the next thing that filled the TV screen, Germ warfare. Osama bin Laden looking not unlike pictures of Jesus in his white robe and beard likely to strike again at any moment. It was mostly about the nine small children that the terrorists had terrorized me.

I suppose I must have prayed for God to protect them, but I know in my heart that that has never been God’s style. I suppose it is because if God were to start stepping in to protect people, where would the process stop? If God steps in to protect us every time all hell is about to break loose, if only for one of us at a time, then what becomes of our human freedom to go it on our own instead of being merely like puppets in a puppet show? And if human beings are not free, how can they be truly human? If human beings are created above all else to love one another freely and to love God freely, how can they not also be free not to love one another at all but to do appalling things to each other instead like blowing up a man and his wife on their way to see a new grandchild, like replacing a God of justice and mercy with a God who sanctifies the decimation of thousands of innocents. Maybe the world’s terrible fragility is the price God is willing to pay for humankind’s holy and terrible freedom to be sinners or saints or the kind of hybrids that most of us are most of the time. 

From “Walking in the World with a Fragile God” by Frederick Buechner

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