Monday, November 16, 2015

Facing the Horror

Ever since Friday I have felt consumed by the horrific events of Paris.  CNN has been on frequently and last night I watched Sixty Minutes where several victims witnessed their experience.  It is frightening to consider the power that the ISIS has to inflict terror and fear around the world.

I remember after 9/11 I spent from Tuesday to Sunday thinking about my sermon on Sunday.  And I ended up preaching about how Jesus responded to evil.  He saw it, he stood up to it, he transformed it.

What I keep hearing is that now we have a "new normal" - in that we are more at risk.  And I wonder whether that is true or whether we are just more aware of the reality of evil that always is present.  In the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the garden there is a snake present with no explanation.  It is always there - the presence of the choice of yes or no to the way of God. 

This morning as I woke I thought about the Advent retreat that I am planning right now.  It is called "Do you hear what I hear?" And I am using the Christmas Son - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
It is based on a  1863 poem "Christmas Bells" by American poetHenry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among all people.

Despite our beautiful Christmas cards, we need to always remember that Jesus was born at a time of oppression and repression for the Jewish people under the reign of the murderous Herod.  The reality of evil is not new.

Today I think about our response to evil and I do not have any idea what our country or any country should be doing.  Except this - we need to work together to discern the most effective response to these killings.  And find a way to stand up to the evil in solidarity with each other.

And for me, I am in prayer for the victims, the leaders, and the enemy.  I sit at the cross of Christ and trust in the mystery of God's suffering and transforming love.

In Wishful Thinking Frederick Buechner writes this and it helps me as much as anything else as I face the horror and the reality of evil in this world.

God is all-powerful.
God is all-good.
Terrible things happen.

You can reconcile any two of these propositions with each other, but you can't reconcile all three. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith

    There have been numerous theological and philosophical attempts to solve it, but when it comes down to the reality of evil itself, they are none of them worth much.  When a child is raped and murdered, the parents are not apt to take much comfort from the explanation (better than most) that since God wants us to love him,  we must be free to love or not to love and thus free to rape and murder a child if we take a notion to.
     Christian Science solves the problem of evil by saying that it does not exist except as an illusion
of modern mind.  Buddhism solves it in terms of reincarnation and an inexorable law of cause and effect whereby the raped child is merely reaping the consequences of evil deeds it it committed in another life.

Christianity...ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene - not even this - but that God can turn it to good.

In Ireland, where the memory of terrorist attacks remains strong, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Michael Jackson issued the following prayer in solidarity “with all those who have died and those who are bereaved and terrified as a result of the atrocities of Friday evening”.

“Almighty God we lay before you today the people of France and in particular the citizens of Paris.
We pray for those who have been killed in the atrocities of Friday evening November 13 and we ask for your mercy towards those who mourn the lost and tend the sick and injured.
We pray for the security and support services and for all who exercise political and civic leadership.
Most of all we pray for peace in a world of violence.

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