Nothing makes such horrible loss any less horrible.
And so, I’ve found myself struggling with how to put it in context for my kids.
Not too long ago, a pastor acquaintance at an urban church posted this link to a proposed cease-fire in Burma which would end 60 years of conflict. To North Americans, this is irrelevant. Just another foreign turf war, and after all, there are so many. But for that pastor and his congregation, this was deeply emotional news. Eighty percent of his congregation are refugees, the majority of them Burmese. They have seen their neighbors and loved ones shot. They have lost, and lost, and lost. When asked if they would like to send their children to summer camp, their response was, “Will I ever see my children again?” Because to them, the word “camp” means refugee camp. It means permanent dislocation.
They are people of war and grief and loss. And they are not farther from God and goodness than we are.
But where we live, it’s easy to mistake the relative peace in our lives for relative goodness in ourselves and those around us. We tell ourselves we’re the ones who go out to solve the rest of the world’s problems, because, look at our peace and prosperity. It shocks us when our sense of goodness and order is violated by the brute facts of human nature: This is not a good world.
Nothing makes such horrible loss any less horrible. Nothing.
There are gifts sitting wrapped, prepared for small hands that will never open them. There are gaping holes torn in the fabric of families. There are beds in which small ones are no longer sleeping. There are limits to how much we can let into our hearts before we lose touch with the light, and darkness takes over the mind.
Years ago, I sat in the soup kitchen in Brandon and listened to a very high woman tell me why she was so wasted. She’d just spent three days in jail. When she got out, it was the anniversary of her cousin’s death, the only person she’d ever been able to trust. They were sisters to each other. She wandered through memories, including ones of the men making her and her cousin fight each other for entertainment, or worse would be done to them for not complying. She rattled off some religious patter because she knew it was a church-run soup kitchen, and what churches want is to get religion into people. She’d known a few holy-holies along the way, she wasn’t all bad.
And there we all hang.
Not that bad. Destitute of spirit, impoverished of heart, and leaving this earth as naked as we come to it, our final purpose enshrouded in futility and our deeds dirtied by the hands which have wrought them. I am that woman’s sister of the heart. There but for the grace of circumstance go I.
So, today, I think about what to tell my children. There are limits to how much darkness we can let into our hearts, but the darkness is already there, even as we cling to the shredded rags of our goodness. That’s what makes it so unbearable. The Chin war is my war. The stains upon Africa are my stains. And the bereavements of Columbine, and Aurora, and Newtown, are part of my fabric. We are one race, united in what we are.
We do not know what we are doing, and for that, God forgive us.
On a day-to-day basis, we try to ignore the bad, because there’s only so much a person can deal with. But because of that darkness within us, right now there are parents wondering if they’re being punished by God, fate, the universe, or whatever, for things they know they’ve done and failed to do. By whatever wild stretch, those thoughts come. When we face the reality of the world and ourselves, it all comes crashing in.
So, I want to tell my children — because who knows how life will tatter them — hang on, dear heart. You are not waste. You are not the detritus cast aside. You are not forgotten, you are held in the heart of God. Even now.
I have two other children in heaven. And other scars. I know the empty, horrible question: Where were you right then, God?
I know it.
I know that frozen feeling inside: I was too young to even know, and yet You are all-powerful. Where were You then?
So, all I can say is this: If only.
If only every child were so blessed as to be loved so uniquely and grieved so deeply. Cry till the rivers overrun their banks and the oceans are full, dear hearts. Mourn them freely and fully.
This is love in the face of the darkness.
And I will be bold and say that God knows it too. God is not willing that any should perish, the Bible says.
God sent His son — His only son — an offering for sin, for the darkness in us. You are not the detritus cast aside.
And what good did it do? Evil still happens. Horror and terror still have their day, and their night. People still choose the darkness.
Here’s the great question:
If God is truly good and truly powerful, why is there evil?
If God is powerful, but not good, why owe Him any allegiance?
If God is good, but not powerful, why call Him God?
There is still evil, because there is still us. There are still gunmen. And embezzlers, and liars and cheaters, and overworked people who benignly neglect their family, and a thousand other sins we can find in ourselves, our neighbors, our friends and our enemies during the dark hours, when it all comes crashing in. There are still broken human beings, and we are they.
And yet, we ourselves are not swept away by the anger and grief of a very good, very powerful God. He could, He has the power to. But God is not a gunman.
We were children once. And to an all-knowing, all-powerful God, we are still like children.
And God is not willing that any should perish, but that all people should turn to Him for refuge. Refuge from the world, and refuge from the overwhelming things within ourselves.
There is still the darkness within each of us, and yet God is not only powerful and good, but merciful and loving. A bruised reed, He will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not snuff out. You are not detritus cast aside.
We do not know what we are doing; we do not know how to see the way forward. But mercy and love, too, are powerful and good.
And God knows. He is a God who sees.