I serve an amazing church in an amazing community.
It is a community that was recently ravaged by violence as one teenager consumed by anger and fear chose to shoot five classmates. Three of these children passed away. Two are still hurt. And the boy who pulled the trigger… I can’t imagine.
There is still – two weeks later – a sense of shock and disbelief, as you could expect.
Things like this don’t happen in quaint, sleepy, picturesque towns. They may happen in big cities, impoverished communities, and in developing nations, but not here.
That’s what we were told.
Yet, throughout this fog that we’ve all be in since that morning, this community has responded with dignity and Grace.
Instead of condemnation and division, there is unity and Hope. There is compassion for the victims and the perpetrator. There is a deep-rooted understanding that we do care for our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and even our enemies. It is a beautiful response by an amazing community.
And the response has been so beautiful because they have not, in large part, tried to understand why this has happened; they have only understood that it has happened, and the need now is Grace. After all, Compassion is not contingent upon our understanding of all things, simply our understanding of one’s need for it.
Still, there have been some folks who have sought to offer an explanation of not only why but why God “let” this happen.
Because this horrific event occurred in a public school, the tired bumper-sticker suggestion that the reason God lets this stuff happen is because “We don’t let God in” has emerged.
Immediately, I say “B.S.”
You mean to tell me that the God that the Psalmist says we cannot escape – that whether we ascend to Heaven or descend to Sheol, we are met by the presence of God; you mean to tell me that this doesn’t include public school buildings because of a simple policy that teachers shouldn’t be leading students in a time of prayer? You mean to tell me that the Love of God in Christ that the apostle Paul proclaims is always with us, that nothing in all of creation can separate us from; that this Love can actually leave us once we enter a brick and mortar building that is owned by the government?
I’m sorry. The bumper-sticker isn’t so.
I’ve also heard an interpretation on Romans 8:28 that goes something like “hopefully, folks will turn to God in all of this.”
Well, yes, I also hope so. But, geez. Can we just distance ourselves a bit from this all? God surely isn’t “allowing” violence to get our attention or to convert somebody else somewhere.
God doesn’t see people as disposable.
Any of them.
Tragedies suck. They cause us to Lament. They cause us to cry out and seek understanding and seek meaning.
But unlike the ease at which we read the Lamentations and Psalms and observe the transition from overwhelming grief to a rock-solid understanding of God’s faithfulness and Love for us in a few short lines of prose, life isn’t as seamless and quick. If we thought about it, I bet that the authors of these laments and poems didn’t find solace that quickly either; they just wrote down months or years of their emotional response in a paragraph.
In all of this, after the difficulty of losing these good kids and struggling with the realities that violence wrecks in your life; the second most difficult piece is to
To not try and understand why.
To not try and understand why God would allow such a thing.
To not try and understand the implications of free will, brokenness, and injustice/violence upon our image of God.
To simply be still. To let Grace come to you. To let God dwell with you in all of your pain.
And it’s not benefited from the people try to explain why and where.
It’s benefited from the people who simply offer their presence, Grace, and Love without any conditions or contingencies. It’s benefitted from the people who simply allow us to be in all of the pain, anger, frustration, guilt, powerlessness, sadness, and brokenness, and remind us that they are present with us, praying for us, in solidarity with us.
At my most frustrated, angered, and cynical point, I want to offer an amendment to the that tired image and suggest that it isn’t only lawyers that chase ambulances, but it’s also desperate theologians.
Desperate theologians that interpret each and every tragedy first as a crisis of faith that requires some theological answer, and second, as a crisis filled with pain, grief, and mourning of our brothers and sisters that requires our presence, Grace, and Compassion.
At my more sympathetic points, I want to understand that we are all trying to make sense of a senseless act.
Currently, I’m feeling more sympathetic.
In the face of injustice, oppression, and violence, let us remember that the weight and worth of compassion, presence, and Grace is greater than an explanation. An explanation will be necessary at a time in the future, but for the moments following, we need stillness that can be filled by the Holy and accompanied by the presence of our brothers and sisters who simply desire to be present with us amidst everything.
Understanding will follow.
Peace be with you.