I began this day sitting for almost an hour in a large medical office waiting room. On one wall was a big-screen television, tuned to a local morning news show. Of course most of the program was devoted to news from the horrific Boston Marathon bombing. I was trying to focus on the Read the Bible In the Year daily reading on my Kindle, but it was difficult with the bomb blasts and screaming that blared from the TV.
There didn’t seem to be anything new to add to the story; no arrests, no one knows why it was done, and the casualty figures haven’t changed. So why do we need to see and hear an almost constant loop of explosions, terrified people, bloody sidewalks, and on and on? Is there a point at which news coverage no longer informs or honors victims and responders, but instead gives confirmation to the perpetrators that what they did was indeed a big, effective deal? Is there a point at which we become numbed to the images of violence rather than being horrified and outraged?
It’s easy to spew righteous indignation at news organizations, to accuse them of only being worried about ratings rather than their responsibility to inform. But my guess is that people who make decisions about what to put on television news are people like us – trying their best to do the right thing under the circumstances, sometimes getting it right, sometimes screwing it up. What they seem to be getting right, at least from my limited exposure this morning, is recognizing the bravery of those who responded to the blasts, the “helpers” as in the oft-posted Mr. Rogers quote.
Anyway, concentrating on the news folks is pointing an accusatory finger at the speck in someone’s eye and ignoring the log in our own eyes. It is our eyeballs that produce those ratings, our fascination with violence and bloodshed that has spawned the “if it bleeds it leads” philosophy in local television news. “Why don’t they ever report on good news?” we ask, without admitting the inevitable answer, “Because we won’t watch if they do.”
If we were having an actual conversation, this is the point where some folks would say, “How can you be so upset about violence, Pastor Dave? There’s all kinds of violence in the Bible.”
And my inevitable answer would be the one I’ve heard from so many Christians committed to non-violence (like me): “But the Bible never glorifies violence.”
And yet . . . the Bible reading I was distracted from this morning was from the book of Joshua. In those chapters the Israelites under Joshua’s command were wiping out city after city in the Promised Land, putting everyone in those cities – men, women, children, even animals – to the sword (or “cutting the hamstrings of their horses” in one case) and burning down everything else.
As much as we want the God’s Word to be simple, it rarely, if ever, is. We can try to explain away the difficult passages, but they are there, in all their complexity and, sometimes, brutality. The Bible doesn’t answer all of the questions that are raised in its pages; we probably wouldn’t understand the answers if it did. “God’s ways are not our ways,” and some things we just aren’t meant to know. Ultimately faith is trusting that God knows better than we do and that we have the answers that we need. Faith is being willing to say, “I don’t know,” even as the supposed expert, The Pastor.
I don’t like that. I like having all the right answers . . . or all the right questions (Jeopardy).
If the Bible doesn’t have all the answers to the internal questions raised, then why do we expect answers to everything that happens in the world?
Why did what happened in Boston happen? Why did God allow it?
I don’t know.
It’s when we try to fill in those gaps from our own biases and limited knowledge that we get into trouble. Almost any statement that starts, “God did that because,” or “God allowed that because,” is just shy of blasphemy.
I am not called to explanation. I am called to pray . . . prayer for the families of those who died, prayer for those are injured, prayer for the helpers, prayer for those who endeavor to keep us safe, and prayer for all who are traumatized or re-traumatized by this tragedy.
And yes, prayer for the perpetrator(s). Jesus has called me to pray for my enemies . . . even when it doesn’t make sense, even when I don’t want to. I will so pray, perhaps through gritted teeth.
I will pray trusting that God was, is, and will be present. I will pray while clinging to the cross, where God was present even in the deepest sorrow and tragedy.
I will pray that I will be reminded that it is not what I know, but rather Who I know, that is of ultimate importance.
I will pray the words of the Kyrie:
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.