When hope leaves before Christmas
December 16, 2012
There is nothing I can add to the words so many have spoken and written about the devastating events at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. Our hearts go out to all those who lost loved ones, to those whose Christmases turned from times of joy to seasons of despair.
Such an event creates the greatest challenge to the Christian faith. Theologians call it theodicy, the problem of evil.
How can one believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving in the face of such tragedy?
Those children and school personnel who died, didn’t bring it on themselves. There is no argument that they were simply reaping what they sowed.
They sowed nothing but love, reaped nothing but violence and death.
Years ago, I read the moving work by Richard Rubenstein entitled After Auschwitz. In it, Professor Rubenstein grappled with the same issue, but through the lens of the Holocaust. In one section of the book, he reached the conclusion that for some who have faced the unfathomable sorrow of seeing their families destroyed by evil incarnate there is only one path left. They turn their backs on a bankrupt faith and make their way through the darkness alone. For them the lack of faith has become the only faith they can muster, the only explanation for things absurd.
I know many people of faith come through the slough of despond without jettisoning their cherished beliefs. For them the inscrutable nature of God is not an impediment to belief.
But I have to ask what Christians are to make of this latest episode of insanity? I am not inquiring about the political issues that now arise, what we can or should do about gun control, what steps we can take to make our schools more secure. There is plenty to be done on those fronts, policies to consider, tough decisions that will require our best efforts.
I am asking about something beyond those concerns, something that goes to the core of what it means to believe in a higher power.
As someone who all his life has seen the babe in Bethlehem as the ultimate sign of hope, the gift from a loving God that symbolized the certainty that somehow, in the grand scheme of things, all the pieces would fit, that the struggles of life somehow made sense, I am at a loss.
This is no time for glib answers. “We’ll understand it better by and by.” That sort of stuff.
I can only believe that God, however we conceive of God, must be there in the midst of it all, suffering alongside those who struggle.
It is a time when I can only ask what happens when hope leaves before Christmas.