Where Was God Last Friday? Reflecting on the Newtown Tragedy

I stood in the hallway watching students file from school last Friday and shared the shock and horror brought on by the breaking news from Connecticut with my teaching colleagues. As a father, my heart was broken over and over this weekend as each new little face, each family, every new angle of the story unfolded.

I was left with some pretty unmanageable questions watching the president speak at the prayer vigil on Sunday. While some were wrestling with questions about the necessity of gun-control, mental health measures or maybe even rethinking our culture's candy-bin distribution of psychotropic drugs. I was fixated on another issue. While the president lamented at the frequency of these horrible tragedies, I found myself struck with a rather cumbersome question directed a little higher than the Oval office.

I would like to ask God: "Where were you in that the room full of children last Friday morning?"

Not a soul would take pleasure in God's quietness on this one. But in God's silence, there is a Story we turn to -- not for answers, but for hope. In this narrative, I found a man named Job who loses everything: his wealth, his good reputation, the lives of his wife and beloved children and even his own health. When Job desperately cries out to God for an answer, he receives no adequate explanation other than an assurance that God will be present with him. We read of God's unmitigated anger toward Job's friends who "have all the answers" (like the folks who ignorantly connect shootings to the absence of school prayer).

As we reflect on the birth of the Christ child with heavy hearts this Advent season, let us remember that the story of Jesus actually begins with the senseless mass murder of children. King Herod attempts to eradicate the Messiah by ordering his soldiers to kill every firstborn child throughout the region. This peculiar story of a God who moves into our neighborhood as a small child begins with genocide. And after pages of life-giving miracles and teaching, we arrive at a scene of tragic injustice where Christ is executed as a common criminal. As Jesus hangs on the cross, he desperately cries out to God for an answer. The weight of his question seems eerily similar to what the parents of 20 school children are probably asking this morning, that thousands of school teachers like myself might be pondering, and parents across the country are considering as they shed tears over the heartbreaking news coverage. Nailed to a cross, Jesus asks his own father, "Dad, why have you abandoned me?" or "why have you left me here?"

God seems not to answer -- at least for several days.

The families of Newtown are "left here" to live their lives and move through the grief and bewilderment of unspeakable tragedy. There will never be a sufficient answer. As I listened to the sobbing of the devastated family members during the prayer vigil last night, I couldn't help but think of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel's words, "love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire." I believe we serve a compassionate God in Jesus who has experienced the grief we know. The only answer to tragedy in God's Story is found in the person of Jesus -- that no matter what happens, God is with us.

He has moved into our neighborhood. He hears our cries and we are not alone in our grief.

It is my hope that we follow in Jesus' footsteps and offer God's presence to each other in the coming days. You see, it is in these very moments, when God seems not to answer, that somehow, in some way, a new life is in the works for those who are left to deal with these tragedies.

The only answer is to love.

Our prayers are with you, Newtown.