Thursday, January 28, 2010
Under the Mercy
We were standing, fifty of us, outside the Luther College chapel ten days after the earthquake in Haiti. A full-throated and mournful wail came from a young woman at the front of our group. The cry seemed ancient, held no words, and its raw pain wrapped around us like an icy fog. Her husband Ben was dead.
Ben and his wife Renee, both Lutheran seminarians, were serving the Church in Haiti for the January term. The two were working in an orphanage when the earthquake pulverized the building. Renee escaped the collapsing ceiling, but Ben was trapped.
Hearing Renee cry out awakened within me a livid, searing anger at God. Thousands of Haitians are dead, hundreds more dismembered and broken, homeless and starving, with families destroyed. Once more, humanity has an epic disaster with no person at fault or action to blame. Ben’s death distilled the catastrophe for me into pure, vitriolic pain. What merciful God would allow this to happen?
That question, old as faith itself, inflamed my anger as the funeral continued. Ben is my sixth friend to die under twenty-five years of age. Living in North Philadelphia, too, I grieved with the community as dozens of youth were murdered over drugs. The paradox of worshipping an all-loving, omnipotent Creator that allows innocent suffering feels like a cruel joke, a God that allowed his own Son to be nailed to a cross. I reflected on Job, on Elie Wiesel, on Jesus of Nazareth. Where is God? No answer, but always a Mystery too complex for human understanding.
How, in the midst of this paradox, do I stay faithful? How do I heal? I believe that declaring one’s anger with God is the best way to draw closer to the Divine Mystery. Anger is an emotion I try to avoid because I am embarrassed by it even in the midst of my fury, ashamed by my lack of control. Admitting anger with God, I have discovered, helps me share that suffering with my Creator. The pain does not vanish, but embracing my vulnerability makes the experience less lonely. God becomes present in my suffering.
And I know that Ben does not want me to be angry with God, the One he served so joyously. Trapped under bricks and iron, Ben started singing hymns to reveal where he was buried. Renee could not reach him, however, before an aftershock piled more rubble on him. The last words he sang were "God's peace to us we pray." I pray, too, that God’s peace embraces and comforts all in their suffering.