Hope and Hopelessness

Yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, CT. The following is a reflection originally posted at eisenblogosphere.tumblr.com on December 19, 2012.

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In the hours after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT, I watched as bloggers and friends on Facebook added their thoughts, frustrations, and prayers one after another. Some posted prayers for healing and comfort. Some admitted that they had no words to say in the face of such tragedy. Some saw this event as a call to action.

Their messages addressed a few different ills of our society.

“We need better gun control.”

“We need better mental health treatments.”

“We need better security in public places.”

I hear that. I respect that call to action. I agree with the stances of most of what my friends and colleagues had said. Guns get out too easily, no civilian has a pressing need for a handgun with a 40-round clip, and we as a society need to care better for our most vulnerable. Those things do need to change.

But part of me feels like giving up on our own solutions.

A man a few years younger than I opened fire at children. I don’t know if there is a greater destruction of innocence. “Babies,” is what a friend of mine said, “They’re babies…”

Something broke in the gunman.

Or something broke him.

Something in this world broke him. Maybe it was in his genes. Maybe it was some hurt another person inflicted on him. Maybe it was something we can’t comprehend. But something broke him like countless others before him who have been broken. Then, he broke those adults and those children.

I don’t want to wage this war against the wrongs that may or may not have led to this breach of innocence. There have ve been incredible amounts of speculation about what “caused” this tragedy, but no matter what the cause, it feels like we’ve already lost to it.

My wife and I are expecting our first child this year and that causes me to look at this differently than I would even a year ago. I don’t necessarily feel the “If it could happen to their children it could happen to our children” sentiment. I feel, however, more aware of the depths of relationships that exist between us humans, but particularly between parents and their children. You could probably call it “a heightened sense of empathy.” The pain of another seems more real when you can more realistically place yourself in its context.

I suppose that is a bit of what happened for people in our country at large. These tragedies aren’t unique to the United States. We’ve come to the realization that our children are not immune to the violence that so many other children in the world are susceptible to. Afghani school children destroyed by IEDs, kids in the Democratic Republic of Congo starve to death. Our circumstances are by no means identical, but our country’s children are simply not immune from a tragic death.

I am shocked at how fast a discussion about the events of the Sandyhook shooting devolve into a debate about gun control/rights. We can give ourselves a moment to grieve. Feel the pain and hopelessness. Feel the fear and anger. Author Kent Annan posted an article to The Huffington Post entitled: Bullshit National Grieving. Annan argues that we as a nation have no right to grieve because we have not exercised love enough to have made even a miniscule effort to prevent this mass shooting. He writes:

If I don’t grab the hand of a sinking man whom I could have reached, then I can’t grieve his drowning. If you don’t feed the hungry woman from your stocked pantry, then you can’t grieve her starvation. If we don’t take tools away from the demented that enable them to multiply their evil, we don’t get to express shock, horror, and sadness when that multiplying evil is unleashed.

There is work for us to be done and our grief should not be divorced from action, but to say that we must “earn the right to weep” is errant. Our God is not one who leaves us to deal with the consequences of our own actions. To me, this is as appalling as the claims from Mike Huckabee and others that violence of this scale is caused by a lack of public prayer in public schools. Both envision a God who tells us to sleep in the bed that we’ve made. Annan may have more legitimacy in his causal claims, but he and Huckabee espouse a troubling doctrine of divine vengeance via inaction.

But our God is different from that. Our God came in the flesh to share in our joys and our pains. In chorus with a myriad of other mourners and sufferers, our God cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The scandal of faith is that we believe in something that is contrary to our experience. We hope for what we can’t imagine. In the face of bloody conflict, we believe in peace. In the face of inequity, we hope for justice. In the face of anger, we hope for forgiveness. In the face of death, we hope for resurrection. In the face of hopelessness we hope for hope. In the face of Sandyhook, we hope for God.

We may not have answers as to why tragedies occur, but we may learn from them and respond lovingly. But even more important than that, we can hold fast to the hope in the midst of hopelessness that God is with us. Our suffering cry is acknowledged by God and is spoken by God. Whether our suffering is alien to us or is a direct result of our own arrogance or ignorance, God is with us.

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