O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your lovingkindness. -from this Sunday's opening collect
I am praying with the upcoming Sunday readings during a week in which we've recently seen a van drive into a group of people on a London street, a 17 year old Muslim girl getting beaten to death on her way home from a Ramadan meal in Virginia, many people losing their lives in a fire that caught and spread in a substandard low income housing building in Britain, and recent terrorist bombings in three places around the world - at a mall in Columbia, a kindergarten in China and a resort in Mali. This is all in addition to the usual spate of mass shootings in our country, including this time the near killing of a congressman. And we've also seen the climate spill over into forest fires that have caused death and destruction in multiple locations, most notably in Portugal. I guess this begs the question: where exactly is that sure foundation of God's loving kindness that our collect this week is talking about?
Why do bad things happen? Moreover, how could a loving God allow such bad things to happen? These are what theologians call questions of 'theodicy' - wondering why bad things happen - why God allowed evil and suffering to be a part of earthly life. Many thick books have been written on the topic of theodicy, and I have nothing earth shattering to add to that long conversation.
I only know that there is never a satisfactory enough answer to the question of 'why' when it comes to loss, suffering and pain, and I am convinced that we will never understand the answer to the 'why' question during our lives on earth. Pain just is. I think that there is no such thing as your pain or my pain. There is just The Pain, and we each experience it in our own ways. Few, if any, people manage to make it through life without their own experiences of the pain, and many people seem to get far more than their fair share of it. Despite this, we can still trust that while we don't know why suffering is part of life, God is nonetheless present to us in the midst of it, and we are never alone.
The way I see it, God was on that street in London when the van came plowing into the crowd. Christ was walking alongside that young Muslim girl down the dark street in Virginia and caught her when she fell. God was weeping and wailing with all those who were trapped in that burning apartment block, and has been grieving and suffering with all those who are harmed or threatened by fire or explosives. Christ is there when a shooter starts shooting, and God groans with all creation as we continue to stretch the carbon limits of our world. God is suffering along with us, as any good friend or parent would do when something bad is happening to a loved one. I don't believe God inflicts us with pain to test our faith or to watch us squirm. God is with all those who suffer. And I believe God weeps along with us.
I cannot understand why bad things happen, but my own foundation rests uppon trust in God's love and kindness toward me, exactly where I am and through everything I am going through, even when life is painful. In fact, sometimes I find God shows up most clearly when things are at their hardest. When life is painful, it can sometimes be harder to claim a perpetual love and reverence for God's holy name - and harder still to believe, as this Sunday's collect asserts, that God never fails to help and govern those of us who trust in God's goodness. But that is precisely the good news that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to share. I pray for God's help and guidance to be with us, that we may be vehicles of hope in trying times like these.
Note - during the season after Pentecost, Ordinary time, we will be using "tract 2" readings each Sunday.