I will turn their mourning into laughter and their sadness into joy;
I will comfort them.
The Lord proclaims:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and wailing.
It’s Rachel crying for her children;
she refuses to be consoled,
because her children are no more.
The Lord proclaims:
Keep your voice from crying
and your eyes from weeping,
because your endurance will be rewarded,
declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 31:10, 13, 15-6
“How does God let things like this happen?” The questions rang out from people gathered for worship that Sunday of Advent after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Here’s what I tried to say that day, as I remember it four years ago:
Much of what we say about God might be pretty self-centered, actually. “God helped me” or “God didn’t help,” we might say, but in truth, how do we know? We rarely have the long haul view of things. What we mean is “I’m relieved” or “I’m not relieved” and I either give God credit or blame God for it. We probably speak far too casually about God most of the time. Someone said to me, “What can we expect? Of course there are school shootings. We took prayer out of the schools and are surprised that God isn’t there when we need Him.” I responded, “I don’t believe that. I don’t think we can dictate where God is by praying publicly or not. God is God after all.” I think what he said was a perfect example of taking God’s name in vain: not cursing, but using God’s name to say whatever you want.
Who we think God is and who God actually is is very different. And when we realize that, it’s a huge blow. We might lose our faith. But if we lose our faith in a god who wasn’t really God, that’s okay, isn’t it? We needed to meet the real God eventually anyway. So, in our recent horrifying expreience of Newtown, we remember again that God doesn’t keep bad things from happening to us. At least not all the time. So our faith in being constantly physically protected by God is shattered. A young man said to me at his friend’s funeral, “I thought God protected his followers.” And I said, “Then explain Jesus and all the disciples who died matryr’s deaths!” And he said, “I never thought of that.”
God’s will is for all who want to live in peace to be able to do so. But God’s ultimate will is not yet done, obviously. We do pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” every Sunday. Why would we need to pray it if it’s already happening? God sends messengers and precious children into the world and we kill them. Does this mean God is not in control?
In a way, yes- we are free to ruin the planet and everyone in it. But . . .
We do know something about God, because we have heard the story of Jesus. It’s not just a story, Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. It is the gut-wrenching glimpse of new life in the midst of hell itself. God does not just leave us to ruin, even in horrific happenings like Newtown’s massacre. Romans 8:28 says it this way: “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” Please notice it doesn’t say that God causes all things, but that what we dish out, God somehow someway will redeem. To me, that is how God is in control.
For now, you and I have a job to do. We are to offer comfort and advocacy to those who struggle. That is the purpose of life: to be a tiny part of God’s redemption of the world.
I honestly don’t know how God will redeem the sorrow in our world. Ask Holocaust survivors. Ask the people of Rwanda. Ask Jesus. My life hasn’t been that hard. Yet.
I hope I will believe it if it is. I hope I will believe God is in control, not pulling every string, but pulling us out of despair and into a new world, where children are safe and all of creation rejoices.