Monday, December 17, 2012

When We Ask "Why?"

by Ben Howard

Over the next few days our national conversation will focus its attention on the motives and reasons for a horrific tragedy. We will watch TV and read articles that attempt to explain to us why the unthinkable occurred. They will tell us how it could have been prevented and also how it was unpreventable, how it was a failure of the system and something that the system could have never expected. There will be op-ed pieces and Facebook posts about gun control and mental health. Arguments will start, tempers will flare, and fingers will be pointed.

Eventually, we will have a clearer portrait of the killer and a clearer portrait of his mother. Perhaps we will learn the reasons for his actions and perhaps they will remain forever in the shadows, a mystery to our ever curious minds.

As a country, we will hypothesize and hyperbolize. We will juxtapose perception and conjecture with fact until we are able to weave a coherent narrative for ourselves, one that we think makes sense.

In our quest to answer, “Why?” we will draw from psychology, philosophy, religion, sociology and our own personal experience of life and we will overlook that our cry was not a question, but a lament.

The questions and cries and pleas spurred by the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut are not of the typical variety. They are the kind of questions, the kind of cries and desperate pleadings that come from the depth of our soul that understands that something is fundamentally wrong. They are the kind of questions we ask when we encounter chaos instead of design.

There is no answer to what happened Friday. There is no way to explain it away and make sense of it. Perhaps there are ways to prevent similar tragedies in the future, but that is a different conversation. “Why?” is not a question of practicality and function, it is a question of existential despair and pain and lament.

As Christians, our tradition is full of this kind of lament. From Job to Lamentations to Jeremiah to Ecclesiastes to the Psalms, it is everywhere. Jesus laments. Paul laments. We are a people who are allowed to feel pain and express pain without glossing it over with answers to dull the pain.

So, I ask you to do something. When you feel like you look for an answer and have found a cohesive narrative that explains the events of Friday, let it go. And when you hear someone tell you that they understand how God works and that this is all part of his will, let it go as well.

The verse that I keep coming back to over and over as I reflect on this tragedy is Psalm 35:22, “LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord.”

When you are tempted to answer the unanswerable and when you are tempted to defend God in the face of tragedy, remember to wait and pray to the LORD that he will not stay silent forever.


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