I found out about the massacre in Sandy Hook Friday midday. A friend of mine mentioned in an email, “Hug your boys tight given the horrendous news that came out.” Huh?
I went to NPR.org and my knees weakened. Any shooting tragedy is, well, tragic. But the headline mentioning that dozens of the victims were children–young children gunned down in their classroom–was too much to even process. And the school principal and psychologist shot as they rushed to try and stop the killer… unspeakably miserably profoundly deeply sickening.
The details of the unfolding of Sandy Hook have mesmerized me. As the child of teachers, as someone who myself has taught for years, and as someone who in my capacity as Texas Instrument’s spokesperson speaks to teachers all over the country, the senselessness of this shooting and its victims coupled with the stories coming out of brave teachers hiding children in barricaded classrooms and telling them they are loved so that God forbid if they were killed they would die feeling loved… it’s overwhelmingly furiously tragic.
What I have heard since Friday is a lot of “Why?” and also, its persistent cousin, “Where was God?”
Disclaimer: I want to share my thoughts about these questions not to detract from their significance but to express the truth of my belief system. This is not meant in any way to take away from those who will disagree with me, or those who feel I am discounting them. I express this as an alternate way to understand both the tragedy and the complexity of a relationship with the Divine.
Not once since Friday have I wondered what kind of God would let this happen. Not once have I felt angry at God, although I understand people who do. I’m speaking for myself personally: I don’t have any less faith in God because of this tragedy. God was there and God is still here.
Am I a “Everything’s great in God’s world” blind faith religious fanatic? Not at all. That’s not my shtick. I simply don’t believe in a God that monitors the world and eliminates evil and makes way for good as I deem it. I think history has demonstrated that that kind of God simply doesn’t exist and although there are strains of religions that believe God is weeding out the unworthy and the sinners, that doesn’t fly with me.
The Judeo-Christian God is a vengeful one for sure. And the Old Testament God rains down terror on the unworthy and sinner left right and center. But that’s not the whole picture of God. God has a path for all of us, and the path includes free will, and it includes evil, and it includes mental illness, and it includes all of us living on this crazy planet trying to survive and thrive and procreate and make something beautiful from the human condition which is, frankly, very complicated.
God, as I understand God, made everything. God made all potential good and evil. God is still in charge of everything, but it’s not going to be the Messianic Age until it’s the Messianic Age. And we are not there yet. We are in galus (exile) and exile is painful. It’s sad. It’s very far from beautiful. We’re not there yet.
The Jewish people are no strangers to “Where was God?” and I thought of this as the Kveller ladies and I discussed how we would write about Sandy Hook this week.
The most famous answer to “Where was God?” was given in one of the quintessential books about the Holocaust, Night by Elie Wiesel.
In one of the scenes of the book (which is not autobiography, but is fictionalized memoir), a young angel-faced Jewish boy is hung on the gallows in the center of a concentration camp for the crime of simply being Jewish. Where was God? Wiesel states that God was hanging on the gallows.
The literary reference was to Jesus, and was made for the benefit of the Christian audience who would read his book, but the deeper meaning is that God is with us through every tragedy. God hurts when we hurt. God may not have eyes to weep, but God did not create us to kill and maim and gun down. God is here and there and everywhere. Always was, always is, and always will be. Period. God does not get to step in and save who we want saved, even if it’s small children in Sandy Hook who I wish could have been saved. We can’t understand God. That’s why God is God and we are not.
I cried on Friday. To see weeping children marching with hands on each other’s shoulders, parents screaming and clinging to children my kids’ age, teachers running on the hormones of survival and fear and pain and risking their lives for their flock. I cried bitterly and have felt kicked in the gut since then.
But God cried, too. And God is still crying. Through our pain and through our joy, God is always with us. Our challenge is to be comfortable in God’s silence, and to know that when we have shed all of our tears and are ready to start again, there is a Voice waiting to be heard that is always there.