“It hurts so bad. I just don’t understand.”
I haven’t actually uttered these words. But these last days my soul has been howling as news stories reported acts of deadly violence driven by searing racial and religious hatred.
Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lees Jones had each made a routine grocery-store run. They were gunned down in the aisles by a stranger intent on killing black people for being black. Confronted by another customer, the murderer reportedly said, “Whites don’t shoot whites.”
On the following Shabbat, the congregation of Living Tree Synagogue had gathered for worship. A man opened fire, killing eleven of the faithful. Among them were Sylvan and Bernice Simon, married in that same synagogue over 60 years ago. 97-year-old Rose Mallinger. And brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal. A regular at an alt right web site, the shooter had posted that Jews are a mortal threat to the white race.
Still reeling with emotional vertigo, I began to feel a spiritual nausea as another thought occurred to me. We can say that these are the latest horrifying news stories. They are not one-offs. They are “the latest.” Shootings occur with dreadful regularity. In our schools, at our workplaces, in our movie theaters, at concert venues, and in our very homes.
And there is more.
Racially motivated violence and anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise. More than 600 women are sexually assaulted every day in our country. Twenty-two veterans take their own lives each day.
Death by opioid overdose numbers 115 a day.
In the US, fifteen million children live in families whose incomes are below the poverty line. That number stretches to three billion around the world.
“It hurts so bad. I just don’t understand.”
The poet Warsan Shire puts it this way:
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
everywhere. (From “what they did yesterday afternoon”)
On the contrary, I believe that it is our question for ourselves. It is the question that can awaken and animate people of faith to be who we say we are: People of the Way of Love.
There is biblical precedent for taking this question as our own spiritual challenge. Jesus’s close friend Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, asked him precisely this question, only from her own set of personal circumstances. (John 11:1-44)
Her brother Lazarus had died. While he was still desperately ill, Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus. They had felt certain that he would come and work one of the miracles he had become famous for. But he didn’t show. Not until Lazarus had lain rotting in the tomb for days.
When Jesus finally got there, Mary said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Her heart was crying, “It hurts so bad. I just don’t understand.”
Jesus’s delay is one of the central points of the story. Jesus had not been belatedly informed that Lazarus was gravely ill. Neither was he was occupied with healings elsewhere. Nothing had detained him from rushing to Lazarus’s sickbed. He chose to wait. And he made that choice in order to illustrate God’s mission.
Jesus did not come to keep us from dying. Jesus came to raise us from the dead. That is the pattern of eternal life: dying and rising. It begins right here on planet Earth and extends beyond the grave.
God created us to live. To navigate this planet as the image of God. In other words, to live as a human being is to love. When Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, he meant that our own personal well-being is inseparable from our neighbor’s quality of life.
So, sometimes, love means that I will die to a narrower sense of my self—to my own narrow self-interest—in order to bring about a greater good. To make this world a better place for us all instead of fortifying my own place of privilege.
God says, I am there
- Wherever people resist hate and fight for the dignity of every human being,
- Wherever people dismiss false equivalencies and denounce the wrongs of white supremacy and every form of racism, classism, and sexism.
- Wherever people feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and welcome the stranger no matter their place of origin, their language, their creed, or their skin color.
When we walk the way of love, we show the world that God dwells where it hurts. God’s love shows up. And God’s love changes the world.
Along the way we’ll encounter obstacles and setbacks. We’ll shuffle and stumble, grow tired and discouraged. But we can take heart. Eventually, God’s love wins.