Last week, I spoke with a group of women about the age-old question of how a good God could allow acts of senseless terror and undeserved suffering in this world. In our case, we were thinking about personal tragedies that end in death–cancer, premature birth, degenerative illness. And yet these same thoughts extend outwards to the horrific news we face once again with yet another series of mass shootings.
There is much to say, and debate, about gun restrictions and mental illness and how and why individuals and communities break apart and the role of white nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric. I don’t think I have anything new to add to that conversation, though I hope and pray that we are able to agree on a common purpose of human flourishing even if we disagree about how to achieve that purpose.
But this conversation from the other night might have something to offer in how we think about God’s role in these horrors. The simplest answer is love. God is love, and each of us is called to both receive that love and give it away. If and as we do that, if and as we participate in God’s love, we participate in bringing light and life and healing to this broken world. This love works itself out in everything from first responders who put their own lives in danger to parents who comfort children to policy makers who debate new legislation. This love shows up in the form of baked chickens and vegetable casseroles and art and music and friendship.
The conundrum of love is that by its nature, love does not control. Rather, love invites. It patiently, insistently, faithfully, eternally invites us to receive, and then to participate. But it does not demand or insist that we (or any of our fellow broken human beings) receive or participate in it. All ongoing brokenness is the result of rejected love. All healing is the result of love received.
Theology is little comfort in the wake of tragedy. But each and every one of us can look for ways that we can turn away from hatred and turn towards love.
You can listen to a sermon I gave recently on Jesus and his healing response to suffering here, a podcast I did with Matt Miller on hope and healing here, and a much(!) older post I wrote for First Things about cancer and hope here.