Saturday, 15 December 2012

Painful Paradox

The unspeakable news from a small town in Connecticut has slapped us wide awake again. Another wrenching tragedy has shattered any dream that the next self-help guru or political effort can save us. Like a poisonous snake, evil appeared in a primary classroom, spewing death and agony in all directions. Such evil lays bare the emptiness of our explanations for the way the cosmos works. Simplistic advisors and preachers stand exposed like the emperor in his so-called new clothes. This latest horror in a world of horrors silences any religious fantasies of a Santa Claus-God who will give us what we want if we’ve only been good enough. 

In the clarity brought by this appalling lightening flash we see our powerlessness to fix the dark side of human nature. Although there is the usual outcry for solutions and preventions, honesty demands humility, an admission that we cannot end evil. Nor can we understand why our Divine Creator does not intervene in ways that would seem obvious to us. Strike the shooter dead before he can shoot! Where are you, God?
Spiritual wisdom avers that the One who gave life to these sweet children and their teachers, deeply cherishes each one, including the young man who senselessly killed them all. How can this be?

Like Job, and David, we lament again, 
“How long, Lord? Will you forget us forever? 
How long will you hide your face from us?
How long must we wrestle with our thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in our hearts?” Psalm 13

Perhaps you saw the short video that I saw in the middle of hours of TV coverage. One young teacher told about her experience of sheltering several young children in a barricaded room. As the attacker banged on their door, she thought that hers might be the last words these little ones would hear on earth. Acknowledging that her action flouted the current restrictions on teachers, she admitted that she held each child’s face in her hands, looked into their wet, frightened eyes and said “I love you and it will be alright.” 
Awesomely, she embodied God’s loving presence in the midst of unfathomable terror and destruction. 

As the devoted teacher sensed, when fear and evil strike, we need to hear those words, once written by medieval nun, Julian of Norwich, “All will be well. All will be well.” 
A life of faith accepts the aching paradox.
There came a time for Jesus when his hard and complex teachings about God’s ways for human life drove away many of his followers. (John 6) 
He turned to his devotees and asked, “Are you going to leave me, too?” 
In the centuries since, most Christians have come to a similar crisis when things like Friday’s slaughter have happened. How can I trust a God who is beyond my understanding? After many tears and much soul-searching, after research into history and theology, eventually we reply like Peter, “Jesus, to whom would we go? You have the words of unending life.”

King David cried out the “How long?” lament above, but afterward went on to write,
“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13

Dear Readers, through tears of empathy for those poor families, colleagues and emergency workers who could not save the children, I echo this confession from the Jewish scriptures, and gently offer the testimony that follows: 

“My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not occupy myself with things too great or too mysterious for me.” 
“But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131

May the hurting folks in Connecticut, and we, fully grieve evil, keep working to bring healing, and yet find God’s peace in the midst.