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Monday, 17 December 2012

So, where was God?!

I have deliberately waited a few days before daring to comment on the tragedy that took place in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday.  Such an event does not call for a "knee-jerk" reaction. 

It's been interesting, however, to notice the way in which the vast majority - if not all - of those in that community have looked to "religion" for solace and strength.  It would appear, yet again, that when "the chips are down" we tend to confirm the words of Augustine: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless 'til we find our rest in Thee"; or the more contemporary counterpart, "There's a God-shaped blank in every heart that only God can fill."  In times of particular sorrow, most of us do turn, instinctively, to a greater Power!

But that, of course, raises the question: "If there is a God, why would He allow such a terrible thing to happen?"  I was preaching on the Sunday immediately following 9/11, and I had to ask the same question.  In such situations of death, destruction, suffering, and sorrow, "Where is God?"   The only answer that I could offer then, and can offer now, is that He is right there, in the midst of it all.  The approaching Christmas season is a reminder that He was willing to take on our humanity, in order to offer us His eternity.

I have a little clip on my study wall that reads:
"If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; if our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us scientist; if our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; if our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; but our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour."

What kind of Saviour do we need when our hearts are shredded by the kind of brutal loss experienced by the loved ones of those who died, children and adults, in Sandy Hook School?  We need a Saviour Who has tasted the very cup that we are being forced to drink.  We need a Saviour Whom we know understands our grief, and pain, and even our bewilderment.  At the tomb of His friend, Lazarus,we read that "Jesus wept" (John 1135).  He understands!

Almost a year ago, one of the young sergeants in 'Q' Division of Strathclyde Police collapsed and died while playing off-duty football (soccer) with some of the constables from his shift.  I had the following sent, on my behalf, to every officer and staff member in the Division:
"On Monday, along with many officers and staff, I attended the funeral service for the late Sgt. [name withheld].
Death is never an easy situation to handle but, in circumstances such as [name withheld]’s sudden death, it is even more difficult.  As Chaplain, I want to share some thoughts that will, I trust, help some of you to cope with this particular situation a little more easily.  
In such tragic circumstances, I find myself thinking of the sorrow that death inevitably brings.  This is especially true for the immediate family – for [names withheld].   There is the deep sorrow of loneliness – the empty chair; the vacant place at the table; the void in life itself.  A certain emptiness, or vacuum, has been created in our lives – and sorrow is its close companion.  Into such a situation, the message of the Christian Gospel is of One Who  has said to those who are willing to trust Him: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you(Heb.135); of One Who is willing to “... stand by [us] more closely than a brother.” (Prov.1824)
In these circumstances, it is my experience that there is also a comfort that mankind instinctively seeks.  We quickly become aware of our inability to cope with this new situation alone.  That’s why relatives and friends gather around at such a time.  It’s for the benefit of the bereaved, as much as out of respect for the deceased.  It’s the reason  why so many, who have had no time for God in their lives turn to Him, almost instinctively, when death strikes at their own family, or circle of friends – especially in circumstances such as those surrounding Sgt [name withheld]’s death.  The sad thing to me is that, in so many cases, once the grief is eased, He is again forgotten, rejected, despised.  Yet to those who truly seek Him, the promise stands: “They cried out for Your help, and You gave it; they trusted in You, and You didn’t let them down.” (Ps.225).  There’s a comfort for which we instinctively seek – and the word comfort, of course, really means strength; but strength that is offered with love and compassion.
The third thought concerns the tragedy that God magnificently changes.  I think, as did the young priest at the funeral service, of another seeming tragedy in the history of mankind – Calvary.  Jesus, in the teaching of the Christian Gospel, God the Son, hanging on a cross; His disciples distressed, despairing, disorientated.  Yet, according to the teaching of the New Testament, just a few weeks later, God the Father had worked in that situation, through God the Holy Spirit, changing it to one of glorious triumph.  Those same men and women were now bold, courageous, strong.
So as we gave, and give, thanks for the life of [name withheld], we continue to surround his widow and children with our love and prayers, that they might experience the transforming power of God in their lives."
We can do no more, and no better, than to surround the bereaved of Newtown in the same way.

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