My dear reader,
Late Monday night as news of the Manchester attack was breaking and sirens and people were wailing and our hearts were ripping open again, I came to a sinking realization. One no parent ever wants to admit.
I have been – to varying degrees – lying to my children for a long time. At least since 9/11.
In the days and weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, I told my older boys (then 7 and 10 years old) that they were safe. That Mommy and Daddy would do everything we could to protect them. That they shouldn’t be afraid.
In hindsight, I see those statements for what they were: false, true (but not the whole truth), and ridiculous, respectively. (And yes, regrettably.)
It doesn’t matter whether we live in Manchester, Mosul or Mexico City, Stockholm or San Salvador, Paris or Pyongyang, Johannesburg, Brussels or Baltimore; we have to face the terrifying facts…
We aren’t safe.
We can’t always protect the people we love.
And there’s a million reasons to be afraid. Very, very afraid.
The world is dangerous. Sometimes, insanely so. There are no real “safe zones” anywhere. (Even inside the womb.) And despite our best efforts to protect our children – car seats and sunscreen and safety locks and antibiotics and airbags and bug spray and bike helmets and content filters and floatation devices – we cannot always, entirely, eliminate harm/hurt/heartache/horror. A baby monitor doesn’t prevent SIDS. There’s no vaccination against diabetes. Or depression. Even the latest and best auto safety features can’t stop someone else from texting and T-boning your Taurus. Or driving drunk.
A few weeks prior to the attack in England, a bus bombing outside Aleppo killed 126 people and injured hundreds more. It happened in a convoy that was transporting evacuees from a hot zone to a (possibly/hopefully/maybe/somewhat) safer zone. Among the dead were aid workers and refugees, at least 68 of them children. An explosion was their end.
Somewhere in Syria, there’s a mama like me. And she just buried her baby.
Bad things happen every day. Sometimes horrific, unthinkable things. Marathon runners and concert goers and bus riders are blown to bits. Whole, healthy bodies are broken in car crashes and burned in house fires. Teachers and students are shot at school. Gang violence mutates and spreads. Predators troll the internet. Vibrant, beautiful souls all over the world are struck by land mines and lightning and lashings and leukemia. The planet is tattered and battered by earthquakes and hurricanes and tornados and tsunamis. And the stark reality is there’s little we can do to prevent any of it.
In any given life at any given time, chaos or calamity can come crashing in. A grim diagnosis or catastrophic storm, a freak accident or planned attack, grievous trauma or ghastly terror. Even if we successfully avoided all hazards and havoc, if we somehow averted every disease and natural disaster, by now we should know that we can’t prevent the violence. One human being against another.
I don’t understand all the psychology and neurology and environmental influences and developmental indicators. I am not a psychiatrist or sociologist or criminologist or counselor. I just know that somehow in some twisted, terrible way, people learn to bully and batter and brutalize. Simply because someone else is the “wrong” color or creed or sect or sex or race or religion or ________ (fill in the blank with any demographic we use to divide and conquer ourselves).
Whether or not we want to admit it, we are utterly incapable of eradicating every evil.
So what is a parent/protector/nurturer/news-interpreter-to-Paw-Patrol-viewers do? What do we tell our children? Or, more pointedly… what do we tell ourselves? How in the world do we make sense of senseless tragedy?
I don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure.
But I know I can’t hide the truth from my kids any more than I could keep them from growing (and outgrowing their clothes every time I turned around). I can’t explain away the ugly and angry and vile and venomous on the news or in the neighborhood. I can’t promise safe and sound and warm and fuzzy all the time.
‘Cause this ain’t heaven.
In fact, it’s a far cry.
Planet Earth can be pretty hellish. And to say otherwise is lying. Or certifiable delusion.
I don’t know why God allows it. The evil, I mean. I like my freedom, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes this whole “free will” thing goes awry. Heinously so.
I’ve heard the question a thousand times:
If God is good, why would He allow such savagery?
I could go on and on about the forces of evil and fall of the human race and God’s inexplicable capacity for both immeasurable mercy and exacting justice (which is not yet fully and finally accomplished). I could try to explain the dichotomy of God’s fervent hatred of evil and His fierce love for the evil-doer. A love that chases after and overtakes and overcomes and cries out that no one – regardless of the ferocity of their cruelty or the atrocities they commit or the blood they spill – is beyond redemption. (Because Jesus spilled His.)
But the simple answer to the question hanging in the air right now is…
I don’t know.
But I do know this.
God isn’t passive or stoic or distant. He comes near, crouches low, looks into the freshly dug grave… and looks into the anguished eyes of the grieving.
He sees. He knows. He empathizes, agonizes, embraces, consoles. And someday, somehow, He will make it better. Better than better.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
Despite popular/modern/twisted theology, Jesus didn’t promise health, wealth and prosperity on this planet. If He had, He’d have been proven a liar a long time ago. A perverse one at that.
Instead, He promised His presence. In the hardest, darkest, bleakest, bloodiest places. In concert venues and prisons and ERs and slums, on race routes and subway trains, in classrooms and convoys, at Christkindl markets… and gravesites. He groans and grieves with us. He is near.
And one day, He will put an end to the terror and horror and hate.
Joy to the world… the LORD will come. And He will start fresh.
And we will fully – finally – know impenetrable Peace, unbridled Joy, untarnished Beauty.
Holding onto my only Hope,
P.S. Love. Will. Win.