The last week has been a difficult week. Our world has been shocked, stunned and deeply impacted by the terrorist attack on Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 last Friday. The news has been filled with the stories, people, analysis and shock. It has hit many people very hard.
Our church community has felt the weight and reality of this awful and tragic event more deeply as we embraced the news that one of our own was on that plane. Jack was returning from a holiday but never made it home. We all keep waiting for him and there is a futile hope in our subconscious that he will walk in one day even though we know that will not happen. There are many feelings that we cannot fully express; a mixture grief, anger, deep sadness, confusion and the endless questions.
Through the many tears that have flowed, people have remembered stories and experiences of this lovely young man who was ready to take on the world with courage, boldness and a self-confidence that emerged over the last few years. He valued self-discipline and wrestled with faith in its traditional formulations but connected deeply through meditation and reflection. He valued authenticity and fairness, practical action and rational, logical thinking. He felt that being positive was vital. He was deeply passionate about well-being and health, diet, exercise and read widely about these things. He set goals and worked hard to achieve them, loved life and experiencing life in rich, deep ways rather than wasting his time acquiring stuff. He loved soccer and was a passionate Wanderers fan. Jack had a deep sensitivity in him for people who were vulnerable. Now Jack is gone.
Through this time we have been left with questions and confusion, wondering what it is all about. The most profound and pervasive question is simply, ‘Why?’ Why Jack? Why that plane? Why those people? Why did they attack that plane? Why are they so angry, mad, hate-filled and violent? Why is there terrorism and evil of such proportions in our world? Why is human life so disdained? Where is God and why does God allow this to happen?
Why? Why? Why?
That one little question reverberates through the conversations, the tears, the rituals, the pondering and the work of coming to terms with the grief, pain and confusion. Why? This little question confronts us at many levels and invites, no demands, of us searching answers. It won’t sit down and fade into the background but is constantly in our faces – WHY???!!
There are rational answers, even if they don’t make sense, but still our hearts yearn for something more, something deeper. Political analysts, psychologists and others can probably give us answers as to why the conflict is happening. They may be able to give us insight into the hatred and madness of such evil and violent acts. These may provide answers to some of the ‘why?’ questions but they won’t pacify the persistent, deep nagging, ‘Why?’
Our prayers for insight and understanding reveal little and God seems to choose silence over explanations. Jesus answered questions with more questions. Job received nothing but accusing questions fired back in response to his demands of God to explain! Is there nowhere we can go to receive the answers? I suspect there isn’t – there may not even be answers. At least no answer to the longing of our hearts, our aching with pain and uncertainty and confusion. ‘Why?’
God, it seems lets these questions flow and hang in the air. I think they are held gently and carefully in grace but answered? Not really, not easily, not without deep searching and reflecting, which is hard, especially in these times. We are, it seems, encouraged to explore our feelings, our pain and ask our questions in the deep places of our being where we are less likely to rationalise or give in to the temptations of simplistic or quick responses that diminish our questions. It is in the darkness, in the night time of our fear when coldness hugs our heart, that we lay wrestling with the questions. When despair falls like mist upon our souls and our minds are full of competing voices reflecting the diverse emotions fighting for prominence in our being, we realise the futility of questions and answers. Still the question comes, ‘Why?’ At some point it morphs and grows into ‘How?’ How could someone do this? How could they get hold of the equipment, set it up and press the buttons? How could a human being so lose their fundamental humanity as to be able to consciously kill innocent people? It morphs back to ‘Why?’ Why did this happen? ‘Why?’ ‘How?’
There are no answers, are there? God doesn’t want me to have a simple answer that puts it all to bed and explains the world simply and surely. God knows that it isn’t that easy, that simple, that such simplistic answers do not honour Jack or the other passengers, nor do justice to the depth of pain and the reality of our world.
I continue the journey through my questioning and wander into the stories of faith. These both clash with and walk hand in hand with the world in which we live. There is pain, struggle and violence in the stories of our faith. There is violence and in much of Scripture the authors seem to connect God to the source of this violence, or at least the One who gives approval. Perhaps it is easier to put the blame for violence and death upon a Deity who doesn’t seem to defend ‘himself’ than take personal responsibility. It still seems to happen – Crusades, Holy wars and the like. Claims of ‘God’s will’ and so on are so much nonsense but those who prefer literalisms will not be dissuaded. God is most normally revealed as non-violent, preferring justice and love over sacrifice and warfare. In Jesus, the One in whom we experience the deepest revelation of God, we find a non-violent, gracious being who welcomes people and tells stories of Divine acceptance of people who are created in the image of God. So it seems that we put violence and killing onto God who has commanded us ‘Do not kill!’
So where do I get to and what does it all mean when I think about Jack? How do I respond to mad, crazed murderers committing grotesque evil in the world? How do I respond to men (and women?) leaders crazed with power and are abominably horrific and evil in their actions? How do I think about all of this when the little question ‘Why?’ keeps coming back to haunt me?
I’m reminded of Martin Luther King Jr and his constant refrain of love. King warned his followers that in the fight against injustice and for civil rights, they must maintain their focus on the issues rather than the people. If they used violence against the people then they were only providing excuses for retribution and further violence against them. They would also be no better than those they struggled against. The ignorance and stupidity of people, the hatred that rises up within them from an unknown source and floods their being with irrational and distasteful (EVIL!) acts, was what thy had to change. Somehow the answer was not in using more violence to overcome violence and bring peace! It is so logical but so profoundly difficult because society has been nurtured in the use of violence and everywhere there are the examples of violence taming violence for the hope of peace. I grew up with Batman and Superman who both fought the evil enemies and tamed their violence and brought peace through victory and terrible violence.
There will be talk about justice and often that is a thinly veiled word for revenge and retaliation. Of course those who perpetrated this horrendous evil that is causing us and so many others such deep pain, that has taken our son, brother and friend away, must be brought to account. There is room for such justice that proceeds through proper channels; although in this complex world such justice is difficult to administer. Surely there must be some response to nation-states who act as terrorists and terrorist organisations who cause innocents to suffer in their ‘righteous’ cause.
Will the international community have the courage to confront this and deal with the heart of violence, hatred and evil? Or, are we all so immersed within the tendrils of retaliatory action that we condemn ourselves as well? Who has the power, the will, the way to proceed and deliver justice in truth? Who has the wisdom and strength of character to stand for change? Do we need a Ghandi or Romero or King or Mandella? Do we need a Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa…? Wisdom, courage, love and faith drawn into the being of a life.
The ‘Why?’ question leads me into hard places where I am challenged to act differently and think differently. I don’t want to be peaceful and loving towards these hate-filled evil strangers. I don’t want to give up the ‘right’ to be angry and to want to inflict some degree of ‘pain’ upon them so they can feel as we do. I want them to hurt in the same way we do, well in my darkest moments that is what I feel. I want to shout and scream at Vladimir Putin and whoever is leading this disgraceful group. I want to tell them what is what and what is wrong with them. I want to shout out my ‘WHY?’ I want to hear them answer that, knowing there will be no satisfactory answer. But I can’t and I know it wouldn’t achieve anything. I know that in my heart and hope that would be how I would respond if ever the opportunity arose, but that takes great courage! More courage than retaliation and revenge.
At some point all this hatred and anger and meaningless violence that spirals up and out of control must end. It must stop and we must learn to be human at deeper levels. We must draw strength and imagination from our faith and the stories of an alternative to violence and hatred. I have two colliding images that are sitting together in my mind. The first is the ‘crucifixion’ – it is a painting hanging in our church. There is no cross just the figure, the submission of Jesus, sacrificing his life for the sake of God’s Realm and its hope for peace through love and justice. This is strongly conveyed in this painting. I understand the vulnerability of love and the challenge to stand against evil without armaments or violence – it is powerful! The second image is another painting, of a chalice. I think of food, wine and hospitality, welcome and inclusion. I think of relationships and listening to the other, the different one, the one we don’t like or understand but share the world with. This act of Jesus changed people’s lives and drew them together into a loving but diverse community. That is what I yearn for, especially after Jack’s death and I yearn for it, for his sake. I don’t want more hatred and violence. Surely enough is enough??! Haven’t we lost enough innocent people over the years and across the world, sacrificed on the altars of ideology and hatred?
Jack just wanted to live life to the full and he did until someone chose to end his journey prematurely. Can’t we hope for and work for this for all our children? Can’t Jack and the other passengers remind us of the precious and vulnerable beauty of life? Can’t we honour them and their lives by choosing to live more simply and peacefully and seeking the way of peace, justice, love and grace towards all people?
I still ask ‘Why?’ but my why comes back to me, inviting me, challenging me, confronting me with how I live life and respond to other people? Why do I give into hatred at times? Why do I lose patience and do violence? Why don’t I love and seek peace? Why don’t I seek to understand others and do the hard tasks of listening patiently?
‘Why?’ still stands before me, the answers still far off and confusing but perhaps I am invited more deeply into grace to ponder, explore and live – in the Holy Presence of gracious love.