Saturday, December 15, 2012

when words fail

Some things defy explanation.
And yet ...
we seek it anyway.
Scouring the news.
Looking for answers.
Wanting to understand.

And hugging our kids close.

It shouldn't have happened.
Not in that neighborhood.
Not in that school.
Not to those kids.
But it did.

Young lives snuffed out
stripped of innocence
robbed of peace.

In a moment, heroes emerged.
All teachers give their lives for their students,
but yesterday,
some gave up their lives,
others risked theirs,
and the whole world stands in awe.

And we feel we must say something.

If the Bible offers us anything for times like this, it is an invitation to speak, to say how we feel.

This is no time for silence.

The Psalms are full of laments.
The Prophets rail against wickedness.
Job faced unspeakable tragedy, too.
He wrestled with undeserved pain in a world gone wrong.
As Gerhard von Rad put it,

  •  "Job saw himself confronted by a theological abyss in which everything that faith was able to say about God was lost" (Old Testament Theology, 1:412).
  •  "In the tremendous tension of his struggle the picture which he has of God threatens to be torn in pieces before his eyes" (1:415). 

And so Job speaks, and speaks, and speaks some more.
He voices his complaints and begs for answers.

Two years ago, at the SBL annual conference in Atlanta, Julia O'Brien spoke to us about the jarring poety of the prophets. She reminded us that "ultimately all of our language about God will fail." But, she insisted, in the face of horror we are invited "not to silence speech but to heap it up, since none of it is adequate in itself."* Just as we can never succeed in wrapping our minds our minds around God, so we can never wrap our minds around evil.

And so we talk and we listen, heaping up speech...
... troubled by a world in which a deranged young adult can so easily access semi-automatic weapons
... amazed by a kindergarten teacher who can read calmly during a massacre
... a principal whose first instinct is to dive into a spray of bullets to save her students
... a janitor who has the presence of mind to dash through the building to alert teachers
... a team of first responders and medical personnel who can sort through the carnage
... and a tearful dad who can face a sea of reporters with courage and extend grace to the family of the one who murdered his precious daughter.

And we wait.
And we pray.
Because that's all we can do.

*quoting an unpublished version of O'Briens paper, entitled "A 'Darke' Theology?" In the first quotation O'Brien is quoting an unpublished paper by Andrew Mein on Ezekiel.

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