I shared yesterday Les Murray's haunting poem "The Knockdown Question" and, today, I'd like to return to it.
Why does God not spare the innocent?
The answer to that is not inYou see, it's the last two lines that fascinate me. Why would one "shrink" away "in terror" from the one who bears the answer to innocent suffering?
the same world as the question
so you would shrink from me
in terror if I could answer it.
On Friday, in addition to the sadness I felt for those gunned down in Newtown, I felt great sorrow for Adam Lanza. I simply cannot fathom how much pain he must have been, how dark his world had become, that that made this act an option he could consider, let alone enact.
What Murray seems to grasp in so few words is that the mystery of human suffering tramples upon our words. It's so disturbing, so awful, that it leaves us silent because it defies language. Could words have articulated the darkness that wrested control from Adam? Would that those words be spoken, who could bear them?
We know that words both build and destroy. "I do," creates a marriage; "You're fired," a loss of career; "I love you," a new possibility; "It's terminal," an approaching end of life. "I'm sorry," requests a new beginning and "I forgive you," grants it. These are words of our world, words used and abused daily. Even when painful, we can make sense of them. "Love" and "Death" and "Joy" and "Sadness" and "Friendship" may grow and deepen over time, but they're words that make sense within our lives.
Hence the reason the words shared with Newtown's parents - "I'm sorry, your son, your daughter..." - are so terrifying: daily words attempting to say the unspeakable. "I'm sorry, she has passed" can be said of a 95-year old man or a toddler...identical words, very different meanings. When applied to the innocent, to children, to the unsuspecting, these are hurricane words, words upending lives and leaving in their wake chaos and death and debris.
Ultimately, when Murray asks "Why does God not spare the innocent?" he is asking a question whose answer, if it were given, would be terrifying. Why terrifying? Because it would use our own words against us, telling us that there is a reason woven into our lives' stories for why these terrible things have happened. That is to say, if we were given a reason for what has taken place - whether it be a school or mall shooting, a plane crash or pediatric cancer - it would be giving innocent suffering a place in the created order, put there by God.
God's silence in the Book of Job absolves God of guilt. By not answering Job's question directly, by not engaging Job on Job's terms, he's pointing out that there is a cosmic logic Job cannot begin to fathom. We may think this unfair, or unjust, but for the theist the alternative is devastating: one either grants that there is something bamboozling about the world or one grants that God has planned Friday's shooting. One recognizes human finitude, the other portrays God as a moral monster.
As a society, we must consider in the wake of this tragedy what it is that enables a young man to envision, and carry out, such carnage. We are so inter-connected with our phones and devices but I cannot help but to feel that we are growing further apart. Gun control laws may help, sure, but I think the issue is much deeper: we live within a tremendously violent and selfish culture and, until we begin to reflect upon and consider ways of healing our culture, I fear we will see only an escalation of these acts.