The Tragedy of Missing People

“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

~John Newton

Yesterday marked 15 years since the tragedy of September 11th. Most people I speak with remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I was a student at the time. I remember crowding around our classroom television and manipulating an old pair of rabbit ears so we could see what was going on. I think I recognized the significance of those moments because our teachers let us. They seemed as anxious to see as we were and all thought of school work seemed to be gone for a short time anyway. Growing up I always heard my parents talk about the day that President Kennedy was shot. It was arguably the greatest tragedy of their youth and 9/11 is without questions the greatest tragedy of mine.

Of all the things that would happen during those days and the days following, one of them still haunts me. Not long after 9/11, I visited NYC. The trip had been planned long before the terrorist attacks and to be perfectly honest I can’t even remember the reason for the visit. While we were there, my family and I could not resist visiting ground zero. I remember the makeshift memorials and I remember looking down into the great hole in the ground and watching them continue to haul away the rubble. There is no question that those sights have impacted me, but they are not what haunts me. The thing that moved me the most was when I descended down into the subway and prepared to take the train. What I saw were the walls plastered with hundreds of missing posters. There in the dark caverns of the NYC subway face after face stared back at me and above each picture were written the ominous word “MISSING”. This more than anything made me aware of the magnitude of this tragedy. We can measure events by the loss of physical buildings, but it is the human loss that brings home the reality of those events. Even as I write this I wonder how many of those people returned safe to their families, how many people were crushed to learn that they would never again see their loved one alive, and how many have resigned themselves to never knowing what exactly happened.

I am sure that the hands that placed those missing posters in the NYC subway trembled with fear and desperation. Their minds must have been filled with every thought and fear for their wives and husbands, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters. The waiting and the searching must have been agonizing. In Luke 15:1-7, Jesus uses the example of a shepherd who seeks after his lost sheep. Verse four says,

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”

I imagine that poor shepherd. He loves all of his sheep and when one goes missing it is heartbreaking. He searches everywhere and diligently desires its safe return. His desire is not simply a financial one, but he is motivated by his love for the sheep. Perhaps at times he  even feels desperate. He is focused. He will not stop until the sheep is found. Of course we know that God is himself the shepherd. He is diligently seeking those who are lost, desperate that they should be returned to him. I fear that sometimes we view God as aloof or impersonal, but this is the opposite of the truth. He loves us and to him love is not simply and empty gesture. He takes action on it and proves his love for us. He seeks after us as a shepherd seeks after his lost sheep. How much more serious and dedicated can you be than offering up your own son as the final sacrifice. Jesus’ death on the cross offers to all people salvation and freedom from sin.

This passage in Luke goes on to tell us that when the shepherd finds his sheep, he rejoices. He experiences great joy and relief. I imagine that some of those people whose hands shook as they taped up missing posters saw their loved ones returned safely. The word “joy” is hardly good enough to describe the way they must have felt. Their agonizing was replaced with sweet relief. Can you imagine? This is how God feels every time a sinner repents, confesses, and asks to have a relationship with him. There is rejoicing in heaven and great joy. Do you think that God doesn’t care about you? Please think again. He is searching for you and earnestly desiring that you would return to him.

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