Really bad things happen to good people. Even to innocent young children. In the aftermath, we’re left to wonder why there’s so much violence and destruction in this world. And there are no easy answers.
I’m incredibly disturbed by the way some people are reacting to this latest violent shooting. It’s disheartening.
I’ve seen disrespectful and downright racist remarks made about President Obama, who, most people can agree regardless of their political beliefs, has shown incredible leadership and compassion for those who are most affected by this tragedy. I’m very moved by his statements, and I’m appalled that some people can’t step back from their divisive and hateful rhetoric long enough to honor those who were murdered.
I’ve also seen the irrational argument that every kindergarten teacher should be required to carry a gun in the classroom, even when this could endanger students. This isn’t the place to get into a debate about the second amendment, but let’s face it: from what we’ve learned about Friday’s shooting, a concealed weapon would not have been a solution in this particular instance.
The cruelest comments have come from a certain faction of Christian leaders, however. These preachers have argued that God is punishing our nation by allowing innocent schoolchildren to be murdered because the Supreme Court has upheld the Constitution’s religious freedom clause. They seem to have the convoluted and theologically unsound belief that God is present only when public prayer is mandatory, and they ignore the fact that plenty of children of diverse faiths (including different denominations of Christianity) pray and talk about God in school every day.
But let’s be clear about something. God is everywhere. God is here–maybe especially here–even in times of tragedy. God cries with us when we grieve the loss of lives cut short way too soon. To say otherwise is to ignore the reality that good people die every day. I’ve watched a lot of friends mourn the loss of loved ones recently, and can’t imagine suggesting that their suffering is some sort of punishment.
At times like this, I think of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah.” It’s hard to rejoice in the midst of tragedy, and yet Cohen reminds us that there are times when “It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
The thing is, we live in a broken world. Scaring, intimidating, and bullying people into religion isn’t going to fix the brokenness because that’s not where the brokenness lies. When I look around, I see so much that goes against what Jesus advocated for his followers to strive for. Jesus wasn’t a fan of materialism, yet a number of churches have elevated worldly possessions to the status of near-idolatry. Instead of worshiping money and condemning those who live on the margins of society, we should be working to eliminate poverty and homelessness. [Edited: And we need to do a better job of providing treatments for mental illness.]
And more than anything, we should be practicing authentic, radical love for all people. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve mastered this commandment, but I’ve made it my mission in life to improve in this department. It drives and inspires just about everything that I do on a daily basis.
The biggest challenge is to show love for those who do us harm. To that end, I’m praying for peace for those who commit acts of violence. My basic primal instinct is to be angry and judge those who hurt others, but this reminds me that I need to make a greater effort.
It’s hard to make sense of the brokenness in our world, and there are times when I’m filled with doubt and questions about how these horrible things can happen. I believe that’s natural, but I’m not going to cower away from or deny my doubts. This only gives the darkness more power. Leaning into it–acknowledging the complexities of the human experience–allows me to move on and get back to the work of trying to advocate for those who have been discriminated against and treated badly by society.
I’m not sure that we’ll ever reach a point where God’s kingdom manifests here on earth in the way that Jesus encouraged, but I’m not going to give up. Now is a time to grieve, but at some point we’ll rejoice again. In the meantime, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallulujah. But God is still here among us, weeping with us.