Life will never be the same.
I drove along I-10 headed East, headed toward home. But home was 1300 miles away, and I felt sure I would never see it again. Richmond, just two hours from DC, was too close to the capital. To the Pentagon, wounded still with a gaping hole, only days after September 11. My parents were so far from me. Why had this never felt so far before? Why didn’t I call more? Come home more?
I could go now, I thought, passing the inner loop. Just 21 more hours and I would be home. I had no suitcase, no plan. I had work in the morning. But I had a credit card and a car and was fueled by the power of fear and grief.
The day before I had locked my office door and let a candle burn down to a puddle on my desk as I cried–the best vigil I could offer for a girl I knew from elementary school who had been working in one of the towers that day. Her daughter was two.
I couldn’t talk to anyone. Life was beginning to move again around me and the Houston weather was beautiful. Stepping outside, you would never guess what had happened so many miles east of Texas. Only the television spoke of it, of gloom and doom.
I needed to get home.
When I called my parents, they talked me down, and a 21-hour unplanned road trip began to sound crazy. I took 59 South from downtown and took the Kirby exit for Rice Village. I got coffee at La Madeleine and bread smeared with marmalade. In Urban Outfitters I bought a pair of gray trousers. Years later, I found those pants still in the bag, still with their tags. I never put them on.
September 11 is the closest I may ever come to understanding, in some small way, the sentiment behind Psalm 74. The psalm is a lament over the destruction of the temple, and I think often when we read it today, we miss the enormity of this. We read the Bible sometimes like a textbook, like a simple history lesson. Without the emotion of real life, and real people.
I’m not sure we can possibly ever understand the significance of the temple to the people of Israel.
They were God’s chosen people in God’s chosen place, and the temple was literally where God’s presence resided. It was not merely a building with a lot of significance. It was home to the very presence of God. It was the symbol of Israel being God’s chosen, of God being with them. This God of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers. This God who was THE God–the only real God among so many nations of lowercase g, homemade idol gods.
When the temple was destroyed, the bottom fell out of their lives in a way that is much deeper, I think, than the way I felt on 9/11. Because they were not simply questioning safety or a way of life. They were not simply losing their nationality. I imagine they came face to face with these kinds of questions, some of which show up in the pages of Scripture:
Has God abandoned us?
Are we still his people?
Were all of the teachings we grew up with true?
If God’s very presence resided in the temple and the temple is gone, does that mean another god is greater?
Where is the center of my life?
How can we worship?
Where is my identity?
Have we been rejected by God forever?
Was He ever really real at all?
Again, I know that I cannot experience this fully, centuries down the line in a completely different culture and on this side of the cross. But I do think it’s important to consider. To think of the moment I most felt something like this, where every sure thing in life suddenly was as weighty as motes of dust in the air, illuminated only in a beam of sunlight.
Considering this for a moment reveals the hugeness of the first word in verse 12: BUT.
I do not know the Hebrew translation for this word. In English it signals what I call the Turn in a Psalm or a passage, where despite all, there is a But: God. My favorite of these is Ephesians 2:4, and in Psalm 74 it comes in verse 12: But God is my king from long ago.
The But God‘s remind us of what God has done, even when we can’t see what he IS doing. The But God‘s are where the knees of faith hit the asphalt of real life, bits of gravel working into the raw wounds. The But God‘s are when we can ask God to show up, trusting that he will regard his covenant.
God showed up, later letting his people rebuild the temple (only to be destroyed later, again). God showed up even after Jesus died on the cross. God shows up now in our lives even in those gritty moments, and I believe that he loves when we come to him with a But God.
Have you had a moment where, But God, all would be lost? Where you struggled to find faith in God during a heart-wrenching set of circumstances?
Linking up this week with Stephanie Spencer and her Everyday Awe Psalms Journey. Come read other writing on Psalm 74 or join in from your blog!