I haven’t said much on the blog about what happened on Friday in Connecticut. Part of it was because I didn’t have words. Part of it was because I was waiting for the dust to settle a bit, which turned out to be a good move given how much misinformation was reported by the media in the first 24-48 hours after the incident. And part of it was because I didn’t want to jump on the “must say something profound” bandwagon.
And so, I’m still not going to say much, but instead point y’all to the best reflection on the tragedy I have found so far. Tim Perry is a Canadian Christian Blogger, and an Anglican. His post, “Where Was God?” and Other Wrong Questions is theologically profound, biblically solid, and thoroughly pastoral.
…The murder of 27 people, 20 of them children under 10 is evil. Beyond that it was an event of horrific evil, I have nothing really to say about it. And in my silence, I hope I am emulating the one thing that Job’s friends did well–stayed quiet. They got in trouble when they opened their mouths.
So, with and for the victims, I will stay silent.
I do want to offer some thoughts on what I think are some of the wrong questions now being asked.
The first wrong question is the religious question: “Where was God?” Were the question left hanging, followed only by the same silence that followed our Lord’s last cry on Good Friday, it would be a fine question. But far too often, it’s not. The question is a mere preamble to the answer. Thus far, I have read only two. In short, one says, God was absent. Having scrubbed God from the public life of America, or North America, or the West (take your pick), we are now left to live with the consequences of our “cleanliness.” God has indeed left and we are left to live with godlessness. I confess to holding this answer in some regard even if it is stupidly and insensitively presented by many. It does conform to the message of many of the Old Testament prophets, not to mention Jesus and St. Paul. A message that boils down to, “the consequence of sin is more sin.” But it is the wrong question and wrong answer for this time.
A second wrong answer to this wrong question affirms just the opposite conclusion as the first: God was present through it all–weeping, perhaps consoling, hastening a departure for heaven. This answer is often given as a response to the more unkind versions of the first answer. And while it does tug at my emotions, I find it wanting, not least because of the emotional response it evokes in me. After the initial pull of sentimentality subsides, I have anger. Were I ever to be in a similar situation, and I pray I never am, I would hope that I have the same courage as the principal and other teachers who died intervening to stop the gunman and to save children. To stand by and cry while observing such a massacre is the definition of cowardice. Not divine love.
Further, it seems to me both answers are wrong because, at the end of the day, they are not actually about God and God’s need to be justified in the face of evil. (Did God ever say he needed us to defend him in this way?) They are wrong because their principal function is to help us reconstruct, at whatever cost to the parents and grandparents of the dead, our own sense of safety. “God is off in his corner. I’m with God and you’re not.” That’s the underbelly of the first answer. “I’m with God. I’ll cry from the sidelines and do nothing, too.” That’s the underbelly of the second. Either way, the answers serve to comfort us by reminding us that we are not the ones who are suffering. That we are somehow different. That we will (hopefully) remain safe from such events happening to us…
So, is there a right question to be asking? It seems to me that there is. It is the question that drives Psalm 80–the Psalm for this Sunday’s lectionary: “How long, Lord God Almighty,will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” To sit with those who are grieving does indeed involve silence. But not simply silence. There are questions to be asked. But not questions about God, or guns, or mental illness. Rather, the question is to be directed to God. The Psalmist is not afraid to ask–How long O Lord? He goes on to say that his people have eaten enough bread soaked with tears. He tells God it’s time for him to turn his face again to his people and deliver them. He is not afraid to talk to God…
I’ve quoted just a couple of excerpts, so go and read the whole thing here.