A friend of mine sent me a link to a Minnesota Public Radio blog post which pointed out the apparent lack of any sort of serious, thoughtful theological response to the events of last Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado. The author of that piece, Bob Collins, notes:
Given the large number of people who believe in God, and the invocation of God in the aftermath of the tragedy, we are, nonetheless left on our own to try to answer the unanswerable and, frankly, unspeakable question: “What’s the deal, God?”
I would love nothing better than to posit the end all/be all answer on behalf of God — an answer which would make sense of such a senseless act of violence and wholesale slaughter of unsuspecting movie-goers. There is, however, no “answer”. Instead there are plenty of cliches, most of which have already been trotted out for use with little regard as to how such cliches actually sound in times like these. For the most part, folk theology with its accompanying canon of God-talk are of little more comfort than acid drizzled into a ragged wound. Of course this isn’t the intent of the cliche-spreaders. Such words are meant to assure the wounded and the families of the dead that they “are not alone”. While I appreciate the columnist’s appeal for good, theological words, I don’t believe there are words available to adequately bridge the aching abyss of anger, confusion, sadness and grief into which scores of loved ones and survivors have been pushed because of the actions of a solitary young man.
Christians have to exercise restraint in times like these. We can be tempted to offer victims and society at large our formulaic answers to the question, “Why?” Yet every time we attempt to answer the unanswerable, we end up doing little more than reflecting our own biases and opinions — constructing God in our own image — intellectual idol-crafting at its best. While exercising verbal restraint, though, we Christians can be utterly profligate with our message of invitation. We can invite those who are questioning, angry, hurting, grief-stricken, confused or hopeless into our congregational communities. We can offer ourselves as companions on the way toward healing. We can take the risk of walking with others through the valley of the shadow of death, because we claim to worship a God-in-the-Flesh who died a naked, violent, unjust and excruciating death, and in that death overcame the DEATH we all fear. Words will not suffice following a tragedy like Aurora. Our ideas and theories and explanations will fall helplessly into nothingness. As followers of this Crucified God, it’s not our vocabulary that makes a difference, it’s our presence — our willingness to sit in the presence of unrelenting grief and hold our silence while resolutely refusing to abandon those who believe they have been abandoned by God.
Lord of Death and Lord of Life, we live as if we will not die and, so living, live deadly lives. Save us from this living death by engrafting us into your kingdom of life. As people of that kingdom we name now all those recent dead to your care — in particular those killed in Aurora, Colorado last Friday. We look forward to the fellowship of the communion of the saints and pray for those friends who will sustain us for the facing down of the kingdom of death. Amen. (from Prayers Plainly Spoken by Stanley Hauerwas — adapted).