Over the past week, I have gone through the full range of human emotions.
Patriots’ Day – Monday – began with a typical early wake up as my daughter let us know she was ready to play at around 6:30am. Then a few hours of work before going outside to cheer for the marathon runners. I felt joy, pride, and happiness as I celebrated the incredible athleticism. Marathon Monday in Boston is a time when the whole city comes together to enjoy spring, take a break, and celebrate the runners. It felt like a perfect day.
Then the news of the bombing. Stunned. Shocked. Surprised. Hard to process the reality of it. I felt grief and anger. We prayed for the city, the victims, and the unknown perpetrators of this evil.
Tuesday through Thursday brought an unfamiliar mix of emotions.
First, grief and heartache. As we learned more about those who lost their lives, like the 8-year-old boy, there was grief for all their families and friends. A friend of a friend knew all three of the people who died at the Boston marathon. Another friend knew someone who was present at both the Boston bombing and then at the West, TX explosion. One of those who died was involved in InterVarsity’s graduate ministries in Boston; I served with InterVarsity for seven years. Boston is tightly connected together. The Boston marathon is one of many events that unite us to one another. The pain and heartache of those most affected quickly reached the rest of us.
Second, a feeling of fear. The aftershocks of the bomb rippled through the city and into my own heart. I felt shaken. There was an undercurrent of uncertainty and worry: where are the people who did this evil? Will they strike again? Are we safe?
I also felt compassion for those struggling to make sense of a senseless act. As a campus minister, I spoke with many students who were affected by the bombing. One was at the very place the bombs were detonated two times earlier that day, and was headed back to the same spot when they went off. This week, the precariousness of life was palpable. A student seeking to donate blood, but the line was too long and he had to get to class. A wide range of responses – from an unwanted apathy to feeling frustrated by the distraction at the end of a busy semester to new doubts about God to sharing in the sadness of our city. This was a primary topic of conversation everywhere I went. Wrestling with my own emotions as I sought to be present to others in their needs.
And of course there was anger. A desire for revenge. A primal urge to see the suspects killed in a blaze of bullets.
There were other emotions, too, the ordinary range of feelings with the everyday routines of work, doing chores, and living life. Unexpected (but welcome) humor in the midst of grief.
Friday – a friend calls at a time no one should ordinarily call another person. What in the world? Oh, now I understand: the city of Boston is shut down. One suspect is dead. A police officer hurt. A car-jacking. And in unrelated news, my daughter is awake. Texting and calling friends and family to let them know that we are safe. Watching the TV, Twitter, Facebook, reddit, and Google+ nonstop. And then checking out entirely. Reading the riveting children’s story Carry Me thirty or forty times in a row to a very interested audience of one.
Irritation that the city is shut down. Staying inside for an entire day? Understandable, but it is sunny and almost seventy degrees outside! Remember, we’ve had over five months of pretty cold weather and spring has just begun. Feeling selfish. Frustration that the suspect is not found. Prayers for the police force. Disillusionment with the inaccurate rumors reported as fact. Excitement of finding real-time news sources. The connection with the world as the story developed and is discussed. A desire for revenge. Worries for the safety of the families of the suspects. How will all of this affect international relations? Simple anger. And then, the elation that the second suspect is hiding in a boat, surrounded by armies of uniformed officers. A helicopter above. The suspense of waiting for the resolution: will he be dead or captured alive?
Finally, resolution: he’s captured and headed to a hospital. What do we do with a badly injured bombing suspect? We do everything possible to save his life, giving him the best medical care available. Justice will be served. The city erupts in celebration. Everyone is on Facebook to share their relief. I feel a sense of closure – and safety.
What does all of this have to do with the gospel? A few reflections:
- I vaguely remember reading in Daws, a biography of Dawson Trotman’s life, the founder of The Navigators, that Betty Skinner relates how prepared the first Navigators were when the Pearl Harbor tragedy occurred. Their naval training had (somewhat, given how unexpected Pearl Harbor was) prepared them for the search and rescue operation. And their dedication to knowing the Bible prepared them emotionally and spiritually for that devastating experience. When do we pray? After tragedies? Good. But what if we regularly prayed before tragedy too? If history repeats itself, there will be another heart-breaking story before the end of 2013. Will we be spiritually ready when it happens?
- Can we love our enemies while honoring the victims and their families? What does it mean to say, “Pray for Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev” when others have just learned their brother or daughter or colleague has died? Is that insensitive and offensive? How can our hearts hold a compassion for those in mourning and a real concern for the perpetrators of this atrocity? Hard to say. Even harder to live this out.
- Surely we need the Psalms in a time like this. On Tuesday my church small group prayed through Psalm 46. God makes war cease. He is also a very present help in trouble. God’s character assures us and removes fear. “Be still and know that I am God.” Thanks to social media and the mainstream media, we can know the most minute details of the lives of the cousins of the father of the bombers. In just one week we have become intimately acquainted with the lives of complete strangers. What has a lifetime (or a few years) of following God meant for our knowledge of God’s character and story?
- Knowing God steadies our hearts. A confidence that God is in charge in the midst of chaos is an anchor for the soul. I needed to know that God loved me, and students, and the victim’s families, and the evildoers, to stay emotionally connected to the ups-and-downs of this week. To care for others as they processed the unexplainable. To keep praying for everyone involved. To be comforted when I realized I hadn’t prayed at all. To fulfill my daily responsibilities in the midst of unique tragedy.
- Can we forgive? Really, the question is: how can we not forgive? God has forgiven us of our sin. To understand God’s grace is to willingly forgive these murderers. Though they are unspeakably wicked, we are called to a profound humility of our own great need for grace. With God’s help, forgiveness is inevitable, but it will be a long and daily journey to reach that place. Forgiving these men will lead us to a proportional justice and free us from revenge.
- Christians need to be spiritual and relational – but also practical. Give blood. The One Fund was started to meet the needs of those affected. Care for your neighbors. Reflection is needed – so is action. Thank God for the long hours the police, FBI, National Guard, and others served this week. Life is both-and.
Finally… Dzhokhar is well along the path of evil and madness. What could reverse this? Is there hope for him? Could he ever be redeemed? I see no answer for such evil besides the cross of Jesus. Two criminals perished next to Jesus of Nazareth. One cursed him; the other repented. Which way will Dzhokhar go? May God’s grace have the final word.