When an act of random violence kills innocent people, wounds and maims dozens of others, and brings an entire city to its knees, there are only questions – who did this, why, how? From the depths of our mind and heart we may ask, too, “Where is God?” We want to know - we insist on answers when there are none, we question, we probe our faith, and again ask, “Where is God?”
I grew up in Dallas. The lingering, collective grief of November 22, 1963 will always be part of our city, even as we prepare to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy later this year. On September 11, 2001, I was alone in New York City when the infamous events of that horrific day occurred. Like all other Americans, I was overcome by shock and dark grief because of the incomprehensible acts of terrorism that forever changed our lives. For me it was a crash course in grief, intensified by the sights and smells and fear that permeated that seemingly invincible city.
The kind of urban tragedy visited on Boston this week is shattering, it’s life-altering - it tests our faith and shakes the very foundation of our life and all we hold dear. I heard one commentator say that Boston is a tough city, that it will survive and be stronger. Certainly cities rebuild, the infrastructure recovers, but there’s always a blot, an emotional, associative scar. Museums, memorials, monuments, fountains, gardens, and squares remind us of our loss and civic vulnerability to willful terrorism, even as they do the cathartic work of thoughtful remembrance.
When people die violently, suddenly, unexpectedly, the human heart is forever changed in ways unlike any other grief. The immediate shock of the moment co-exists with anger, outrage, fear, helplessness, and an overwhelming sense of loss on many levels. The question, “Where is God?” comes from this place of deep woundedness. Intellectually, spiritually, we know that God does not cause violence and terrorism. God does not plot against us or plan harm or punish us. When we pause to pray and reflect, what we discern is that slowly, gently, lovingly God is moving us beyond the unanswerable “why did this happen?” to the tentative hope of “how will I go on?” This is God at work, God for us, especially in these days of unimaginable loss and grief.
How do we know that God is here, present to us in the unalterable circumstances of life?
- God is in the outpouring of loving-kindness as strangers spontaneously reach out to help other strangers.
- God is in families suddenly brought closer together by a greater understanding of the gifts of life and love.
- God is in the strength and wisdom of leaders, first responders, professionals, and volunteers.
- God is at the heart of an interfaith service where those who seek meaning in tragedy join hands and hearts to call on the power and comfort of a loving, caring God.
- God is in all the anonymous acts of tender care that bear witness to God’s love for us all.
- God is in each moment of self-sacrifice, selflessness, and quiet heroism.
- God is in each whispered pray for those whose grief is much newer than ours.
- God is in life’s worst tragedies when we are inspired to new heights of human goodness and compassion for others.
God is power over evil, destruction, and death. God is strength in our grief, the victorious right hand that guides us through the darkness toward the light, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 NRSV).
God is here, God is everywhere, actively present to comfort us with the complete adequacy of triumphant grace, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NRSV).
For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112: 6-8 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the strength of your presence. Amen.