Photo by Art McClanahan
We struggle to make sense of the senseless. Our hearts are broken. We ask why. We’re confused, frustrated, angry. We weep. We plead. We curse. We pray.
We do what we can to express our concern, to comfort the grieving, and we wonder.
The tragic death of innocents, whether in Newtown or Kabul, challenges us because we desperately want answers. And order. But there is no explanation.
On television this afternoon Dr. Drew repeated what many people say; that God needed more angels and he called the children and adults of Newtown home. It’s a well-meaning thought and one that seems to help many people through times like these.
What comforts me is the biblical teaching that God is available to us to hear our pain and absorb our anger. God’s availability provides us with comfort and strength. It does not comfort me to think that God is the cause of the pain, nor that God wills the death of innocents.
In a post a few months ago, I wrote about this.
God Did Not Create It a Chaos
In biblical teaching, God does not bring chaos upon us, the whole story of creation is about God bringing order out of chaos for our own good. Chaos, as Rabbi Harold Kushner reminds us in his classic book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is evil. It prevents us from believing in God’s goodness. God brought order and precision to the chaos so that we could enjoy the fruitfulness and goodness of creation.
In the earthy give and take, up and down relationship between God and the people Israel, Isaiah speaks a timeless message:
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!)” (Isaiah 45:18-19 NRSV)
Without a predictable, reliable creation, life would be unbearable, utterly beyond meaning. We would literally live in the vortex of on-going chaos. Thus, when random events occur that interrupt the orderliness of our lives, as when a troubled individual causes the carnage that we mourn in Newtown our response is to ask why God did not step in to prevent it. Or we call upon God to reverse the terrible hurt that breaks our hearts and spirits. But to do this would be to deny the fundamental structure of the creation that gives us reliability. It would introduce yet more unpredictability and imperil its goodness.
You Are My People
Instead, we are told we are never separated from the love of God. That if we call upon God for strength and courage, God will be with us. “I am he who comforts you,” writes Isaiah (Isaiah 51:12) after calling the people Israel to task when they feared their oppressor. We are reminded that we are to reach out to each other in community to lend each other strength. And we pray to remember the goodness that remains in our lives, even as we ache for that which has been lost, and in prayer we are reassured.
“I have put my words in your mouth, and hidden you in the shadow of my hand, stretching out the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.'” (Isaiah 51:16)
I Am With You to the End of the Age
Christians believe that in Jesus, God entered into our sorrow and grief, taking upon God’s own self our brokenness and pain, as well as our hopes and joys. “I am with you always, to end of the age,” Jesus said. (Matthew 28:18) The belief that God is with us is the heart of Christian faith.
The Apostle Paul writes, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38,39)
In these affirmations, we find the strength to overcome the pain of unbearable loss when it seems beyond our human capacity. We find ourselves and our place in the universe. We form the community that helps us get through the struggle. We glimpse the hope for a brighter future in the midst of this disordered time, the vision to see life as purposeful and overflowing with possibilities, and the nurturing that gives us stability when we are brought so low that we cry to God, “Where are you? Why, O God, why?”
“But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:14,16)