As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.-Elie Wiesel, 20th century
58 people gunned down while attending a Country music festival! There really are no words to offer. Increasingly we are becoming numb to such occurrences. Perhaps because they happen so frequently they are becoming too common. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there is a mass-shooting in the U.S. 9 out of every 10 days. This past week there were 6 other mass shootings in addition to the one in Las Vegas. (The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass-shooting as “4 or more people shot in one scene, excluding the shooter.”)
What we can say, what we need to say, is to acknowledge that suffering is not hypothetical. It is experienced here and now by real, embodied, human beings who undergo real physical and psychological pain. The truth is it is part of life. Misfortune is everywhere. Some of the suffering is a normal part of life. Some of it is a fact of nature. But far too much of it is a function of evil.
Far too often the answers people of faith, including pastors and theologians, have offered are inadequate. Seeking to answer the unanswerable questions such as if God is all knowing, why did God create a world in which there is evil and suffering? If God is all loving, why do babies and children die of AIDS, cancer, and other diseases? If God is all powerful, why does God not intervene to stop evil and suffering? It is not that discussing such questions as not worth our time or energy, but not at the moment of dealing with a real event of suffering! These questions and the traditional answers to them begin from a place of speculation. They fail to help in real time precisely because they operate on a metaphysical level disengaged from the actual realities of misfortune in the real world.
The only answer that helps is Love. It is better for us to focus on responding through the solidarity of love and compassion to the adversity and anguish of victims of violence, rather than on seeking to reconcile God’s love and goodness with evil. A person experiencing tragedy is not comforted by hearing about God’s mysterious ways. He or she is comforted by being loved and taken care of..
The presence of honest, sincere caring people is what is important for those in the midst of suffering. This presence is important because it becomes a point of recognition that one is not alone in one’s suffering. The cry of dereliction, my God why have you forsaken me? is answered not by pointing to a set of theories, however good and sophisticated, but by the generous companionship of the caring other. This is especially powerful if the one offering care is a companion in lament as well as hope.
One last thought: Some are saying we should stop calling for prayer – that prayer is an excuse to do nothing. But that’s not right. Prayer is a request for God to do something and that something often means that God intervene in our hearts that we might act to combat the evil. The Benedictine monks have a phrase: ora et labora – pray and work. Prayer and work are partners. They are not two separate actions for the people of faith.
We pray and we work for justice, for mercy, for peace, to uncover hope, to restore, to love God and neighbor and to be a resurrection people in the likeness of Jesus. So pray and work. Pray for honest guidance from God as to what action God would have you take to combat the evil of mass-shootings in this nation. Perhaps, that might action might be to offer a louder, stronger, witness for more gun-laws that would make it more difficult for people inclined to such actions to carry them out. The Pastor of the Coral Gables Congregational UCC, Laurie Hafner shared this week an organization to which she belongs: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. On their website they offer a variety of ways you can make a difference and can do something. Go to www.momsdemandaction.org for more information. This may not be the guidance God gives to you, but if you pray sincerely God will show you how you can respond in concrete, compassionate, ways to care for and to fight for those who suffer at the hands of violence almost every day in our nation. Pray and work is Jesus’ call to us today.
See you in church.
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida