The Question That Never Goes Away
The latest mass shooting that our country experienced this past week was yet another wearying and disheartening chapter for us in what has been a very long, sad story of violence and heartbreak.
Since the terrible tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012 that took the lives of 20 little children along with six of their teachers, there have been 2,654 mass shootings (when three or more people are shot and or killed) in the United States.
2,654 mass shootings... 2,908 people dead. 11,088 wounded. It's like not only did we not learn from the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook---we seemed to have doubled down.
When you start pondering these things, it's hard to believe that Evil isn't winning.
I've been re-reading Philip Yancey's book The Question That Never Goes Away over the past several weeks. The question that Yancey is referring to is simply this, "Where is God when it hurts?"
More specifically, Yancey seeks to address the doubts that we all feel in the face of senseless violence, soul-shaking tragedy, and seasons of terrible uncertainty and fear.
In other words, the moments when we wonder if Evil is truly getting the upper hand, and it feels like God is nowhere in sight.
One of the points that Yancey makes is that there is often a difference between those who observe suffering and those who experience it.
What he's come to believe is that for people who go through hell on earth it's harder to reject the notion of God than if they simply are on the outside looking in.
Theologian Miroslav Volf once wrote that many of us who experience tragedy more often than not want to cling to God for our "solace and our agony." Some cling to feel peace, and some cling desperately seeking answers.
The important thing to note here is that whether we are seeking peace or answers, those of us who reach out for God in the midst of suffering start from the same place of longing. We long for God to be there... somewhere.
I think that the Christian story provides an additional layer to all of this---especially when it comes to trying to feel God's presence in the tragic moments when it feels like God is absent, and Evil triumphs.
In fact, this quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu sums it up better than I ever could:
For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.
We very well may not be able to feel God's presence when the suffering feels too great. We also might not be able to see where God is at work when we are observing tragedy from a distance.
What we can know, however, is that the universal pattern of dying and rising is at work even in the worst things. We can trust that even though it may seem as though Evil is getting the last word, it isn't.
New life will spring up. A new world is possible. Resurrection will happen--somehow, some way.
Because not only is God present with us in our suffering, God is on the other side of it, rolling stones away, and beckoning us out of our tombs.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.