On February 20, 2016, I was hovering over my phone in the darkness waiting for any announcement that police had finally captured the Uber driver who was randomly shooting people in my community. In the midst of his spree, I felt hunted. We all did. We were locked down — in our homes, restaurants, theaters, bars — posting warnings on Facebook, trying to keep each other safe. I kept hearing sirens. Felt a visceral tremble in my spirit. Powerlessness, I think it was.
Who is going to make this better? Who is going to stop this? Someone. God. Please.
That feeling returned last week as I heard the sirens again, this time racing to reach the nine bicyclists who had just been plowed over by a man in a blue pick-up. Five beautiful people dead. Four injured. Hearts and lives shattered.
Last night, 49 people were shot and killed in Orlando, 58 others wounded, countless others profoundly changed — the worst mass shooting in US history. Details are still emerging. It feels so cheap for me to be talking about it as if I can understand or offer anything valuable. We are feeling so shaken and silenced as a nation. A deep, collective trauma. I feel full to the brim with a longing to quietly and firmly hold the hurting and I cannot fulfill it from here.
These are only a few deadly and horrific events of the thousands this year, and there will be more.
After many of them, my news feed fills with explanations, questions, agonizing pleas. And so many – SO many – volatile words and arguments.
The dead and the suffering become lost in them.
The perpetrators are highlighted too often.
The fear and trauma and righteous anger and sadness stirring inside of us seem to put on a protective mask and walk around as hatred, polarizing political fights, religious contention, prejudice, frantic threats.
Agendas and fear swallow our empathy.
We stop having productive conversations about how to wed our valuable ideas and begin instead to make severe declarations without taking a listening posture. Most of us feel some real desperation, but what we do with it often creates thick defensive walls, leaving us abandoned by each other.
Yet in the midst, there is always one thing most of us can agree upon: Somehow, something called evil exists, and we are all experiencing it.
A single question usually follows and begins to haunt: WHY?
THE LOGIC OF EVIL
It’s a reasonable question. Absolutely. We want to know why so we can prevent it next time. Get underneath it and inside it so we can gut it out of the world.
But no answer ever satiates. No answer can.
I am a Jesus-follower. This completely informs my understanding of love and hope, death and resurrection. I accept the idea of a God who is so loving that He doesn’t force himself upon us, but offers us the freedom to choose Him. This freedom means we (and others) can choose evil too. I subscribe to this paradigm in my mind and still feel completely baffled by it in my heart because it seems to ensure suffering.
So God may not cause the evil, but He allows it, right? Promises He’ll never leave us or forsake us in the midst of that suffering. Promises the suffering will end someday.
It’s a simple explanation, and when our pain is searing, sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough.
Maybe you believe something different about God and evil, but I bet you still struggle to make sense of our world as much as I do.
I’m convinced if we were to bring our questions about evil to evil itself — if we were to stand face to face with him — he’d only offer something like this: Because that’s what I do. I kill, I steal, I destroy. And guess what? I’m gonna keep doing it.
Evil is not logical, and it will never give us the answers we desire. It doesn’t engage conversation and isn’t interested in soothing fears or tucking them in. We cannot understand it or pin it down or fit it into a box that allows us to see it as a natural or acceptable order of things. Don’t try to understand it, because you probably won’t be able to, and neither will I. It doesn’t make sense.
I’d like to count this lack of understanding as goodness, count it as a sure sign our hearts were not meant to bear the assault of evil. It is counter to our original image and to everything we were made to be and experience.
THE HANDPRINT OF GOODNESS
As spiritual as I might sound, truth is, I wish none of this was happening. I talk about spiritual things, but I don’t want to be the kind of hyper-spiritual that minimizes and silences. The gravity of these tragedies cannot be prayed away.
When we are hurting, we don’t usually want spiritual-sounding platitudes as much as we want to curse God. I may believe in resurrection through any circumstance, but there is absolutely no explanation good enough to make death feel better, to make death not feel like death.
Sometimes we say things like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
I’ve never liked this phrase much, probably because I don’t want the killing thing to have any credit. Evil is only a backdrop. It never has the last word, so I don’t want to thank it. It is not the reason we are stronger, it just makes the goodness we already hold that much more visible.
Just look. Look around and you’ll see it.
The Monday morning after the Kalamazoo shootings, counseling centers in my community were full of people stepping up, connecting, hearing, speaking, helping each other. Within days, tales of bravery and survival and laughter and gratitude pushed through the lack of understanding. Despite the confusion, stories of celebration and life moved through the funeral homes, proving that hearts would continue to carry the moments that have mattered most.
A few days ago, hundreds of bicyclists gathered to ride in honor of those who had lost their lives doing what they loved. They rode in remembrance and in solidarity, agreeing that fear would not snuff out the freedom that comes from feeling the wind on their faces.
In Orlando, surgeons requested blood for those injured. The line to donate was so long that people had to be turned away. More stories of kindness and help will continue to come. I’m absolutely sure of it.
Our trauma, our anger, our grief — it is not a sign of surrender or a pathetic posture of powerlessness and defeat. It is our humanness and the fingerprint of God in our hearts. Our pain is our natural defiance against evil, the proof that in the midst of all the darkness, we are still very much alive and raging against death.
We are raging against a death that can kill our bodies, but cannot kill our love.
I am convinced, as only a witness can be, that the places of love within us and around us will always be larger, wider, deeper. After the darkness has come, the handprint of goodness will be what remains.
Will you watch for it with me? Better yet, press down, hand on another’s hand, to create it?