Making sense of the senseless
How does a person of faith come to terms with inconceivable horror?
Random acts of violence have, unfortunately, become part and parcel of American culture. The shootings at Columbine … Virginia Tech … Knoxville … Fort Hood … Aurora … eventually they all blur together, and we find ourselves unable to remember what year in which each took place.
That sort of numbness is troubling in and of itself. But when another one follows a similar pattern but takes it to an entirely different level of horror … there are no words.
Friday afternoon, I didn’t get much accomplished here at work. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t stop reading about and watching news of the tragedy in Connecticut.
I couldn’t fight the urge to leave early, drive to Alcoa Elementary and scoop up my son. I couldn’t fathom what was so broken or corrupted in the mind of the shooter that he could shoot one child after another … after another … after another.
I couldn’t reconcile my spiritual beliefs, that there is an all-powerful God who loves us and wants the best for us, with the seeming evil that could carry out such an act.
Over the weekend, I can’t say I’ve processed it that well. When I think of the parents who grieve … the Christmas presents that will never be opened … the holidays hopes and wishes and wonder snuffed out in an instant … I shut down. I spent 15 minutes standing in my son’s doorway on Saturday while he watched “Fraggle Rock,” just drinking in the living, breathing sight of him, my heart crying out for the parents in Connecticut who will never again be able to do the same thing.
In times like this, I have to take a time out and say the serenity prayer. I have to remember the theological understandings in which I came to believe and accept in my early days of recovery. I have to pray for those with whom I hurt and those I can’t understand: the parents and the shooter, no matter how much the darker, protective side of me wishes there was a way to resurrect him and kill him all over again.
What do I know? Not much. But here’s what I believe: That God received those babies into whatever awaits us after this time. That he grieves with us. And that anyone who says such a shooting is His will has a very different understanding of God than I.
I do not, for a second, believe it was God’s will for a man to walk into a school and murder innocent children. The God I believe in bestowed His greatest gift upon us, as human beings: Free will. It is the part of our nature that separates us from animals — we don’t live our lives driven my pure instinct. We have choices in everything that we do. And with that gift comes the responsibility of choosing wisely, because God doesn’t step in to intervene once the consequences of our choices are set into motion.
We can ask ourselves all day long why God didn’t step in and intervene, why he allowed this to happen. My belief is simply that, but my understanding of God is that for Him to do that would be the same as taking away that very precious gift He’s given to us. For Him to send angels or His son or a deus ex machina to prevent such tragedies from occurring might as well mean He never gave us that gift in the first place.
It’s not easy to accept such a gift, however. Because our choices affect so many other people, and our lives are so intertwined with those with whom we share His world. The decision to put out a little kindness has a ripple effect; the choice to put out darkness does the same.
God weeps for those killed. I believe that. I also believes that He hopes the rest of us will make the choice to live our lives from this time forward in light and love, to put out what we hope to receive, and to take care of one another.
Does that make what happened in Connecticut OK? Does it make it better? Not really. But it strengthens my faith, and in times of darkness, that’s more important than ever.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.