People sometimes use the phrase “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Maybe so, but I find that quite often not knowing can be extremely difficult and painful for all of us. Imagine yourself as the parent of a child at Sandy Hook Elementary School after receiving word of the shooting that has taken place. The time of not knowing whether or not your child has been harmed might be the most painful moment of your life.
As Christians, we have a desire to know. We want to know who God wants us to be, what God wants us to do, how God wants us to live, where God wants us to go. And yes, we want to know why. It seems that not knowing is just too difficult, too painful a place for us to be. So we search. We look for easy answers to difficult questions.
We look around, some to the right, others to the left.
“Why did this happen? Because we’ve kicked God out of our schools! We need to change the laws concerning prayer!”
“Why did this happen? Because of the accessibility of guns! We need to change our gun control laws!”
Or we look upward, beyond the present reality, and offer explanations based on our understanding of who God is, or, all too often, who we think God ought to be. God is loving and gracious and merciful. But wait, God is just and righteous and holy. So which attribute of God are we seeing in this situation?
I’m reminded of Job’s friends who, with the best of intentions, try to at least rid Job of the pain of not knowing. Like us, they seem to be saying, “If we can’t make things right again or undo the evil that has been done, at least we can have the comfort of understanding why it happened.” And, again, like us, their explanations reflect their perspectives and their theology. Job listens to them and then tells them that they may be trying to help but it’s just not working. Finally God shows up in a whirlwind and spends about four chapters not giving easy answers but rather asking more questions!
Maybe the most important truth in Job’s story (and ours) is this: God shows up. The presence of pain and suffering or even evil does not mean that God is not here. Had God been “kicked out” of the Amish school where those precious children were killed in 2006? Was God not present in the flesh when our Savior Jesus Christ was brutally murdered on the cross?
As Christians, we can proclaim many essential truths with certainty and conviction. There are things that we believe, things we know to be true. And we believe that the fullest revelation of that truth is in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Based on these beliefs I can say that the God I know as revealed in Jesus does not punish innocent children to “get back” at the government for its position concerning prayer in schools or to “teach a lesson” to lawmakers (or to the NRA, for that matter) concerning gun control. But there are things I do not, maybe even cannot know.
So, if you’d like my best and most “bishop-ly” answer to the question of why the tragedy in Newtown occurred, here it is: I don’t know. But I do know that God will not let that be the final answer. I do know that the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will bring healing and redemption and new life in the midst of pain and suffering. I do know that there is evil in the world and that God calls all of us to take a stand against that evil and to work to dismantle the power that it seems to have. I do know that God wants us to work together as God’s children to address the issues that contribute to these tragedies.
And most importantly, I do know that God shows up. Immanuel is with us, not only in the peace and love and hope and joy of this season, but in all that we face in our lives – the known and the unknown.
The Rt. Rev. Sam Gray is a bishop of the Moravian Church. He serves as Director of Intercultural Ministries for the Board of World Mission.