Monday, September 16, 2013


I have been sharing excerpts from God Of Our Silent Tears in the order they appear in  the book, because the book is an argument from our encounter with evil to a better image of God to an understanding of how God helps ("God who has brought us thus far on the way") to a call for us to respond to evil and suffering in a godly way.  But the occurrence today of yet another mass shooting, another multiple homicide, prompts me to share this excerpt out of order. As we were about to go to press, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary sent me back to add this section to the end. I have argued that God's response to the pain we feel in this transitory life is a transcendent redeeming beauty which manifest as a serene center, as compassion, and as vitalizing spirit. I conclude that our best response to suffering, our own suffering and that of others, is to mirror God's response. This excerpt applies that mirroring in the context of Sandy Hook. Perhaps it has something to say to today's new tragedy.

                  Over the years of writing this book, tragedies have compounded, each one forcing me back to the existential drawing board – seeing my text on the computer screen exposed as pitifully inadequate in the face of flesh and blood sorrow. There have been natural evils – 230,000 killed in the Haiti earthquake of 2010; 70,000 killed in the Sichuan quake of 2008; the Pakistan flood of 2012; the Japan earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2012. There have been human evils – atrocities in the Congo and Sudan; mass shootings at Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, the Aurora Theater, the Sikh Temple, Tucson, and a one-room Amish school to name just a few.           

                        As this book goes to press, we have just witnessed the mass murder of elementary school children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Again the question, “Where was God?” Again many interpretations are drawn. Absurd things are said, like “this is God’s punishment for the absence of prayer in schools.”

                        This book has not prescribed a neat formula to which such a thing can be reduced. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary demonstrates that evil will not be reduced to any neat formula. But I will do my best to offer a glimpse into how the Trinitarian God responds and calls us to respond to horrific evils.

                        The closer we are to this loss, the more we need to access some firm foundation of hope.

                        My life flows on in endless song
                        Above earth’s lamentation
                        I hear the sweet and far off hymn
                        That hails a new creation.
                        Through all the tumult and the strife
                        I hear the music ringing . . . .

The bereaved need a God of Eternity to hold their grief. We all do. And they need people who embody that faith for them when it is natural they should find it hard to find hope in their own broken hearts.

                        If we love our children as much as is humanly possible, God loves them infinitely. If we suffer at their deaths, God suffers infinitely. The Cross happened again in Newtown, Connecticut. We meet God at that Cross, the God who will someday redeem and resurrect. The victims need a God who joins them, who goes all the way into the hell of death and grief with them. And they need people who embody God’s compassion, who, in Wolterstorff’s words, “Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, [are] wounded by humanity’s wounds . . . .” In the moment of loss, it is possible to find God precisely because in that moment we can find each other.

                        The friends and parents of the slain children and teachers will need more than hope and compassion to find their way into a future. They will need that mysterious infusion of strength and courage the Spirit offers. They will need the meaning-making process of spiritual growth and transformation -- an inner process manifesting outwardly in life for others. That meaning-making will take different forms for each person.

                        The public discourse in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre is a desperate scramble to make meaning out of senseless loss. People are proposing gun control, improved school security, expanded access to mental health, and other ways to improve society, mostly good enough ideas. But to me they all seem too small, too utilitarian. Tragedy of this magnitude calls for more than a technical fix to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. The best way to invest with meaning the wave of mass murders we have experienced in recent years would be to repent from social violence. Reasonable regulation of firearms would be the most obvious pragmatic way to back off from our compulsive habit of violence. But gun reform is a far, far cry from enough on the one hand, and extraordinarily hard to achieve on the other.

                        Our societal violence goes much deeper than legislation can reach. More than any other developed nation, we have embraced the meta-narrative the late Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence.” The myth he describes is an ancient story line beginning with the Enuma Elish, the Sumerian creation myth. Marduk, one of several Sumerian gods, becomes king of the gods because of his combat skills.  He slays the sea monster Tiamat and creates the heavens form her body. The import of the Enuma Elish, as Wink reads it, is that meaning, value, and heroism lie in killing the enemy. Wink offered the gospel of Jesus Christ as the counter-narrative of “redemptive love.”

                        But for every movie, book, and TV program valorizing a Christ-figure, there are 100 valorizing a Marduk-figure. The catechism of American culture is a course in the myth of redemptive violence. So we live with fantasies of someday blowing away a villain. The myth of redemptive violence invests our human worth in our capacity to kill. So we, as a nation, invested our wealth in a nuclear arsenal that would destroy every living person on earth many times over. We incarcerate more people than any other developed nation. Unlike most modern democracies, we persist with the death penalty. From the video games we sell our children, to our sports, to our law enforcement, to our foreign policy, we embrace violence. In our pride and in our fear, we have made what Isaiah called “a covenant with death”—meaning we ground our safety and our self-esteem on our capacity to kill. Is it then any wonder that the canaries in this spiritual coalmine turn assault weapons on our people, killing federal judges, young adults at movie theaters, and first graders at their desks?

                        When I think of a transformation that would give some modicum of meaning to the blood shed by our children, nothing less than a societal conversion from a model of valor like Marduk to a model of valor like Jesus will do. The Sumerian creation myth says the universe is born in bloodshed; hence, the Savior Marduk comes with guns blazing. The Jewish creation myth says the universe is procreated by a parental God who says “It is good;” hence, the Savior Jesus comes in love, even sacrificial love.

                        So to draw the circle to a close, that is what this book has been about – the discovery of a better God, the kind of God manifest in a Jesus – not Marduk -- a God of serenity, compassion, and relational power to live for others.

(God Of Our Silent Tears can be ordered on line from Cathedral Bookstore.

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