It’s Just Horrible
The March 29 front page article in The Herald-Times points us to the heartbreaking story of the murder of 15-month-old Shaylyn Ammerman. How can we believe John 1:5 (“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”) in light of this kind of incomprehensible evil?
How Did This Get in Here?
When I was a child in Africa, a 6-foot long snake made its way into my bedroom when I was two years old. My Mom, after the snake had been killed by the Africans in our village, asked the question, “How did this get in here?” The Bible over and over again asks the same question of evil in our world: “How did this get in here?” The early chapters of Genesis talk about the decision by men and women to play God as they eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2:17). The book of Job is, in part, another attempt to explain the subject of evil and suffering. How did evil find its way into the cosmos God created with such love and care? Honestly, most well-meaning attempts by preacher-types and theologians to explain evil create more questions than they answer!
Is Suffering Deserved?
“No!” Jesus says.
One of the assumptions made by some people is that when we suffer we must have done something to deserve that suffering. When Jesus and his disciples walk past a man born blind in John 9 the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” Awful stuff happens in this world to the innocent and good stuff comes to rascals who deserve so much less. That is part of the lesson Jesus teaches in John 9.
In Matthew 5:45, Jesus teaches us, “He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.”
The truth is that when we are in the middle of something awful, when there is incomprehensible evil in the world, Jesus says we may not understand why it happened but we can use the moment to do good. We are called to “show God’s works” as we remain faithful and loving even in the middle of suffering and injustice.
There is amazing art work created by Jews who lived in the ghettos and death camps of World War II Europe. What does their experience tell us?
Creating Art in the Jewish Ghettos of WW II
Nelly Toll was 8 years old when she and her family went into hiding, sheltered by a Christian family, in World War II Poland. Nelly spent her days “creating wonderful, bright paintings of a lost world,” according to an Associated Press article released in January of this year. Over one hundred works of art created by Jews suffering in the ghettos or death camps are now in the German Historical Museum (on loan from the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem). One picture painted by Nelly is of a girl giving a vocal recital, standing in a living room next to a grand piano. Another is a picture of two girls out in a field, on a bright day, going for a picnic or picking berries. A painting of Nelly titled “One Spring” shows a bright yellow butterfly alighting on a strand of barb wire at the edge of the camp.
According to a January 25th AP story, the show’s curator, Yad Vashem’s Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, called the creation of art during the Holocaust an “uncompromising act of resistance” by artists in mortal danger.
What does this say to those of us who live in the shadow of such evil moments as the recent murder of 15-month old Shaylyn? To believe that evil has not extinguished the light of God in the world, as John says, is an act of resistance. To continue to live as a faithful community, to continue to live with hope, to continue to love one another, is an act of resistance. Doing the ordinary, good, decent little things of each is an act of resistance against evil’s insistence that life is a cheap, hopeless and meaningless enterprise.
When people of faith gather for worship, when people sing songs of praise or offer prayers, when people of goodwill (whether believers or not) invest themselves in acts of justice and deeds of mercy (see Micah 6:8), we are like artists creating art as “an uncompromising act of resistance” against evil.
What more can we do?
Bear One Another’s Burdens
God calls us to look out for one another. Paul, in Galatians 6:2, says we fulfill God’s law when we “bear one another’s burdens.” In another letter, Colossians 3:12-13 says we are to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness…and patience.” We are to bear with one another, forgive one another, “and clothe ourselves with love.”
So we pray for those who have suffered and those who cause the suffering, as well as praying for police officers and court officials who deal with heart-breaking tragedies.
We say what we can and do what we can to help those who are hurting.
We not only offer words of love and support, but we do love…in acts of kindness and mercy.
We work to build communities where children are valued and loved and protected. (This is a large part of the mission of our congregation and other faith congregations…and other great child-focused organizations in our community.)
We speak up when we believe children (or adults for that matter) aren’t safe.
We invest ourselves in addressing issues of addiction, whether alcohol or pornography, so that all people can be whole and free (and safe).
Anne Lamott, in her book Stitches, quotes a friend, Ram Das, who describes himself as a “Hin-Jew.” Anne writes this: “Ram Das said ultimately that we’re all just walking each other home. I love that. I try to live by it.”
Where is God in all of this?
God Shows Up
There are no easy answers to the existence of evil in a world created by a God of love. Jesus, when faced by evil and nailed to a cross, kept loving and living right through it. He did not surrender to evil or let it have the last word.
I believe God shows up when people create art in the middle of death, when communities keep loving and caring about one another even in the face of incomprehensible evil, and when faith refuses to let fear rule.
Let’s keep walking each other home. Let’s keep loving even when our hearts have been broken by horrible things.
Remember this Sunday we return to our regular worship schedule:
- 8:45 & 10 a.m. in the Sanctuary.
- 11:15 a.m. in the Buskirk-Chumley.
Also, we are beginning a new series of messages about what it looks like to live out a resurrection life. Join us for “Rock and Roll People.”
THANK YOU to all the ushers, greeters, acolytes, musicians, childcare workers, children’s ministry teams, hospitality volunteers, etc. for helping make Easter Sunday a really amazing day. It was, in a word, awesome!