Two decades. Twenty years.
We have turned the page on our calendars 240 times, but if I close my eyes I can still see the huge console television in my office in Chickasha that we turned on when we heard reports that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.
Bombed. In Oklahoma City.
The shockwaves shook the Sooner State.
That old, dusty television showed the catastrophic results of hate overflowing from the heart of homegrown terrorists who successfully blew a hole in the heartland that beautiful spring morning.
The editor in me knew this story would be among the biggest I would ever cover. The human being in me saw men, women and children bruised and bloodied from the damage and I immediately thought of the commuters from our area that made their living in Oklahoma City.
A grandfather of a friend of mine, a member of a prominent local family, and a toddler from the church where my brother was a pastor were all among those taken by the blast.
We were left in shock that these hate-filled men could plan such an intricate attack but fail to keep a legal tag on the getaway vehicle. There was an abundance of evil but a lack of genius.
Almost immediately, residents began living lives that were reflections of Romans 12:21. That lifestyle was noted by President Bill Clinton when he addressed the Prayer Service Memorial only a few days after the bomb shook our ground and even our faith.
Clinton noted the faith of the state that had already begun to overcome the evil act.
“In the face of death, let us honor life,” Clinton said before quoting that verse from Romans. “As St. Paul admonished us, Let us ‘not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
After Clinton addressed the crowd at the State Fair Arena, Rev. Bill Graham made his way to the podium and joked with the crowd that President Clinton’s address was a worthy of any pulpit anywhere. He quipped that perhaps in 20 years, Clinton would be serving as a pastor somewhere.
But he will be back in Oklahoma City on Sunday to address the same people who he helped lead through a moment in history that no one should endure.
Rev. Graham went on to tell the crowd in the most honest way possible that he had no answers for why a loving God lets events like April 19, 1994, happen.
“I’ve been asked why God allows it. I don’t know,” Graham told an arena full of Oklahomans seeking comfort. “I can’t give a direct answer. I have to confess that I never fully understand - even for my own satisfaction. I have to accept by faith that God is a God of love and mercy and compassion - even in the midst of suffering.”
I saw those questions being asked by friends and family of those who were lost and I felt the pain of a state whose false sense of safety had been shattered.
I felt similar feelings when I argued with God sitting by my father’s bedside a couple of years ago. Dad wasn’t taken by a terrorist’s plot. His body rapidly degenerated thanks to a rare brain condition.
I sat in his room the night before he died and argued with the God of the universe. Why would you let this happen to a man who served you? He poured out every ounce of himself to serve others and now he is lying in this bed semi-aware moving his right hand to touch his face to make sure the one final limb that was still mobile hadn’t failed him yet.
I know how it feels to ask God why He allows things to happen that don’t qualify in our sense of justice.
But in his address, Rev. Graham touched on two points that we all need to cling to in times that try our faith.
Both are from Jesus himself. One is a teaching. The other is an example.
Everyone knows about the Beatitudes – a sermon Jesus gave on a country hillside to a large group of followers. He established a great deal of Christian doctrine that day.
Then, as recorded in Matthew 5:4, Jesus talked about dealing with death.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” he said. “for they will be comforted.”
That is huge.
He didn’t say their mourning would be taken away. He didn’t say everything would be just fine. He said we will be comforted in our mourning.
Like that friend who squeezes you tightly as tears stream down your face, God holds our souls and comforts them while we mourn.
Rev. Graham also showed that those times when faith is shaken and God seems far away are normal and acceptable.
“And our Lord on that Cross asked the question: ‘Why?’” Graham said referencing Jesus’ words from the cross during his crucifixion. “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
Jesus asked “Why?” and there will be situations in this life that make us ask the same thing.
One of those happened 20 years ago.
Today, we remember the lost. We honor the heroes from that day. We let those painful memories surface and relive the pain from that horrible day.
Now, two decades later, some of those wounds still feel fresh, but our faith is stronger because we have been comforted.
Our resolve was tested, our faith was questioned, and our lives were changed. But on this 20th anniversary of the horrific attack, let us remember that we came together as a state across party lines and cultural boundaries.
What was meant to tear us apart brought us closer together and made us stronger. We can be that better version of ourselves again and we should in order to honor the memory of those who were permanently affected 20 years ago.
Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at email@example.com.
Kent Bush: Memories of Oklahoma City bombing still fresh 20 years later
Two decades. Twenty years.