We saw the storm clouds ahead, but they were moving away from our destination. We were on a six-hour trip to visit my parents and my sister and her family. When we arrived after midnight, I hardly recognized the place. Two buildings had been flattened, and a large barn had been moved off its foundation and had assumed a diamond shape, ready to collapse. Debris was everywhere.
A tornado had touched down earlier, and everyone appreciated that our visit coincided with their need for help, both moral and physical. My husband, our two small children, and I were hustled off to bed. It was late, and we needed to get up early to start the cleanup.
I'd been learning how to pray with consistency and specificity and was determined to recognize God's presence in action right there. Every time I picked up a board or shingle, I deliberately turned from that symbol of destruction to praising God for His divine order. Now, many years later, when the new buildings have long been considered a part of the landscape, I remember that good, and not devastation, had the last word.
The expression "Man's extremity is God's opportunity" appeared first in a sermon delivered by Thomas Adam in 1629. Because it has been proved true so many times, the statement has become an aphorism. Almost three centuries later, we find guidance and solace in its promise. The implication that no matter how extreme the tragedy, the opportunity to see and prove God's goodness is present. Today, as we witness the devastation in New York and Washington, many of us can draw upon lessons we've learned through cleanup and rebuilding. Though my experience has been miniscule compared to what we're facing today, it reassures me that not only the buildings will be rebuilt, but also our faith and confidence.
It is essential that we continue to make this extreme tragedy "God's opportunity." Selfish opportunism, which too often follows in the wake of destruction, is held at bay through the religious meetings and prayer vigils in this country and abroad. They heighten our sensibilities and make us reject opportunistic temptations, subtle and otherwise. A few instances of gouging at gasoline pumps in our area received a strong outcry and were quickly abandoned. Bomb threats, though increased, were not allowed to disrupt. Most important, those attempting to use the terrorism attacks to promote their agendas of religious and ethnic prejudice have found instead a greater unity and a better understanding of one another's beliefs.
Are these not evidences of "man's extremity" becoming "God's opportunity" to lift us beyond mere selfish gain? Are they not examples that we can prove in every instance the superiority of good over evil? Of course, God doesn't need a special opportunity to express goodness, because that is the very nature of the Supreme Being. Actually, what appears as God coming to us and helping us is our moving closer to God. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "Truth and Love come nearer in the hour of woe, when strong faith or spiritual strength wrestles and prevails through the understanding of God" (pg. 567).
A Biblical character, seeing beyond his plight of having only stones for a pillow, said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." He reached this conclusion after he had dreamed of "a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it" (Gen. 28:12, 16).
As our thoughts reach up to God, His/Her age-old messages of reassurance come to this place on earth where we are. These angel messages tell us that those who are taken from this place called earth are still in a place where they can experience God's love. There is no evil so extreme that it can separate anyone from the love of God. And we have the opportunity, the willingness, and the ability to prove this.
Proving that tragedy is an opportunity to understand God better doesn't diminish one's compassion for the immediate victims of this terrorist act. Rather, the understanding of Truth and Love, Scriptural names for God, not only enables us to intuit the needs of others and do the things that are most helpful but also imparts an understanding of God's continuous care.