So much was reported last week about the Boston marathon bombings that I need not recount details here. And like so many others, I was drawn to breaking news at all hours of day and night, all week long. It was dramatic and it was terrorizing, no doubt especially so for those in close proximity.
These acts of intentionally hurting, maiming, and killing innocents? They make no sense. Yet they happen every day, it seems, and often in otherwise peaceful places.
Last week, three people were killed and 170 maimed or injured at a sporting event in Massachusetts. Four months ago, two firemen were killed and two injured in a calculated ambush in western New York. Four and a half months ago, 20 children and six adults were massacred at an elementary school in Connecticut. Nine months ago, 70 people were injured and six killed in a movie theater in Colorado. Twenty-seven months ago, six people were killed and 12 wounded at a political event in a supermarket parking lot in Arizona. Normal, every-day, community events turned evil beyond belief. You don’t have to be a terrorist to incite terror.
Some years ago, an evil influence infiltrated the small, rural campus where my daughter attended college. She had chosen the school in large part because it was situated in a tiny town. She really wanted to go away to school and this place felt safe to her. We were sure she was right. There seemed no safer place in the entire world to send our girl off to learn. It was until it wasn’t.
One weekend the spring of her first year, the bubble burst. Initially, we were clueless; too far away to realize what was happening. Then we were helpless; too far way to be of any help. She was threatened, forced into hiding, traumatized. Eventually the State Police became involved and the situation stabilized. Soon thereafter, she came home, bringing nightmares with her. We hoped and prayed that somehow she could feel safe and secure again. But what could we do to ensure it?
As Boston reeled from the onslaught, I was reading in 2 Chronicles. This section of the Old Testament recounts King Solomon fulfilling his father’s dream, building a temple in which the God of Israel would reside. A house fit for the God of all creation? It was ludicrous, the thought! Solomon knew that. Yet God had blessed the plan. So the king spared no effort or expense to make this dwelling place acceptable to the Holy One. And it was.
When God showed up, his presence was unmistakeable in the form of a heavy cloud. Then fire fell from heaven to consume the sacrifices. Poof! In their place, his glory remained. His presence was so powerful, completely filling the temple, that the priests could not enter. The people fell on their faces, awestruck. God was so near!
I pondered how this passage spoke to events unfolding. These days, it might seem God is harder to find. He’s not so obvious, I might suggest. Was he in Boston last Monday? Where do we find him, generally? There is a clue in 2 Chronicles.
King Solomon’s temple was part of God’s master plan of redemption. This was a way, a place, for God to draw closer for awhile. But it was dangerous. God’s holiness is nonnegotiable; he cannot coexist with less. The priests followed strict ordinances to serve in the temple. Annually, on the Day of Atonement, a priest entered the Holy of Holies, the most sacred inner sanctum, to make a sacrifice for the community. It was a frightful duty. Small bells were attached to his robes to signal he lived on in the presence of God, concealed behind the thick temple veil.
Meanwhile, the people tried to keep the law, more or less, to stay in right relationship. It was impossible. They failed, time and again. Ultimately, God grew weary. He sent his son, Jesus, as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. God spared no effort or expense to come near, again.
Creation took note when Jesus died. The skies turned unnaturally dark, as black as night. The earth trembled and quaked. The temple veil, woven four inches thick, was torn in two from top to bottom. This last was symbolic and an important public announcement, proclaiming from the most sacred temple space that the final sacrifice was complete and acceptable. Most significantly, after this earth-shaking event, we became his temples. Now God lives in us, in his people, in those who invite him near.
So what about Boston? Webster? Sandy Hook? Aurora? Tucson? Was God there?
Thousands of pictures flooded the media from the Boston explosions. A few stand out, forever imprinted, seared into memory. What I see, when I look closely, is the powerful force of a loving God dispelling evil. In the citizens who jumped in, running toward danger, shedding the shirts on their own backs to tourniquet; in the first responders, the firemen, the policemen who selflessly lay their lives on the line to serve and protect others; in large and small acts of love of the highest order, I believe God was there.
God’s love pushes back evil just as light beats back darkness, every time. We may not escape terror when evil goes on a rampage but we will find God in our midst. God will be there. He has to be. For in his absence, evil is unchecked and this world, this life, would be unbearable.
I don’t know why they did what they did, those evil doers in Boston, Webster, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson, or places unnamed. Nor can I truly comprehend the pain and suffering they’ve caused. I have no words to describe the ripple effect their deeds will have on families, friends, community, and our nation. But I trust God will be there.
He will continue to manifest himself. In the aftermath of trauma, in the healing, in the courage it takes to forgive, in the strength required to live on, God will be near to those who seek him. You will know his presence by his gift of peace.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
I am leaving you with a gift of peace of mind and heart.
And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give, so don’t be troubled or afraid.
~ René Morley