And So This is Christmas?

Posted: December 18, 2012 by Jim Killam in books, disillusionment, doubt
"The Slaughter of the Innocents," Tintoretto, 1587

“The Slaughter of the Innocents,” Tintoretto, 1587

“When the heart-strings are suddenly cut, it is, I believe, a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation. There is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, and though we may submit to God, it is rather by constant painful effort than sweet attraction.”

– Harriet Beecher Stowe, writing to a friend who had experienced tragedy.

I haven’t watched one minute of TV news since last Friday. That’s certainly not because I don’t care about the people of Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve been reading newspaper accounts and praying for those families. But TV images are more than I want to deal with.

Almost five years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2008, a disturbed young man walked onto an auditorium stage at Northern Illinois University and started shooting. Before he took his own life, he’d shot 23 people, killing five. One of those killed was Dan Parmenter, a student of ours at the Northern Star, the daily student newspaper where I was the adviser.  Several other students who I knew well, either through the paper or the classroom, made it out of Cole Hall physically uninjured.

I accompanied a group of student journalists to the immediate aftermath, and took photos that would appear the next morning on front pages of newspapers all over the world. We all wish we could “un-see” what we saw that afternoon.

Where was God in all of that? Where was God last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Honestly, I have no idea. And I think anyone who thinks they have a lock on it has probably never experienced something like this up-close. Sure, I can find theological answers about how we live in a corrupt and evil world and how God has indeed made the ultimate costly provision to save us. I get that.

But what about those kids?

I’m still not sure where God was 20 years ago when my wife’s sister and her husband were killed by a drunk driver. I vividly remember a woman at the funeral telling our family, “God needed them in heaven more than we needed them here.” That’s idiotic theology and if anyone really believed that, they’d absolutely hate God.

Not that I’ve felt any great love for God in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. Just helplessness. We want to understand, to make sense of it all. This week, we want to blame guns, or mental illness, or video games, or our violent culture in general. And all of those things may play some part. We might make some strides with legislation and increased knowledge about what makes people do things like this. But there will be no satisfaction in trying to make sense of evil when awful things keep happening to innocent people.

So where does all of this leave us with God, a week before Christmas?

We don’t like to focus on this, naturally. But Christmas, from the beginning, has been tragically connected with the murder of innocent kids. King Herod, feeling threatened by the presence of the baby Jesus, ordered the slaughter of all boys age 2 and under in and around Bethlehem. (Matthew 2) Imagine what that must have been like for those families.

Faith doesn’t always come easily for me. I want it all to make sense, to be able to reason it through logically and come to an inarguable conclusion. Tragedies like last Friday’s throw all of that into a tailspin, and our response is to quickly look away rather than confront an ugly reality. Horrible, evil things happen. God for some reason allows them to happen, and the scales of justice never really seem back in balance.

I do know that God is present in pain – much more visibly than during the good times. I read the Psalms and see David crying out to God about the unfairness of it all. And I now that God knows, and cares, and loves, even when I can’t understand.

Brennan Manning wrote in “Ruthless Trust”: “Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded. … We are, each and every one of us, insignificant people whom God has called and graced to use in a significant way. In his eyes, the high-profile ministries are no more significant than those that draw little or no attention and publicity. On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.”

Incomplete as that answer seems to me, it’s all I’ve got. Rather than avert my eyes to pain in this world, I can lean into it … and at the same time, lean into the God who can be trusted, and ask him to use me in some small way. It’s a change in focus, and changes my question from a futile “Why?” to a hopeful “What?”

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Comments
  1. Joe says:

    May I recommend the response here: sjnstc.blogspot.com.

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