The word “aurora” is from the Latin for “dawn.” In Roman mythology Aurora was the goddess of sunrise. Can we ever again say or hear the word Aurora and think sunrise or wonderful brightness that dispels the darkness? Hard to imagine isn’t it? There seems to be no adjective that is brutal enough to describe the senseless maiming and slaughter in the Aurora movie theater. One thing is clear, the word Aurora now joins with Oklahoma City, Columbine, nine-eleven and others that speak to us of the impossible to understand. We know what happened, but can we ever make sense of it?
It is tempting to try to explain James Holmes’ actions by appealing to his apparently disturbed mental state. Indeed media are busy interviewing mental health professionals to get their take on which label to hang on him. The more professional and thoughtful are providing a sound bite nobody really wants to hear--we would only be guessing by trying to diagnose him at a distance. Others are quick to use words, such as, sociopath or psychopath.
As helpful to us as trying to understand the shooter’s motivation might be, even when we’ve got the right label, thoughtful Christians will be faced with a bigger problem. Some are already putting the question as, “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” Others phrase it this way, “Where is God in all this?”
The first question results from the shock of hearing about completely innocent and good people who just wanted to enjoy a movie with family or friends being massacred. In the same way, many of us struggle with the effects of natural disaster: how can God allow a tornado, or hurricane, or wildfire that is indiscriminate in its destruction to happen? One assumption behind such a question seems to be that God shouldn’t punish the good along with the bad. As parents, we wouldn’t spank all our kids because one of them disobeyed, therefore, if God has to do harm to someone, let it be those who deserve the harm. Another assumption seems to be, that since this kind of harm can’t possibly be justified, God must not really be loving. And if God is not loving, then perhaps God is just capricious and unworthy of our adoration and affection. Perhaps God is like the gods of mythology who liked to send lightening bolts or floods or without crops just because they could so, maybe we need to cower before God and be afraid.
The answer to the first question is a complex one, I think, requiring us to be thoughtful about who God is and why God acts or fails to act. Indeed, it requires a level of thoughtfulness that many of us prefer to avoid. Today, I’m not going to try to answer it either, though I will later. Today, in the midst of our pain and confusion, I want to answer the second question: “Where is God in all this?” I think the question can be rephrased this way, “Can God help me or us in our grief and shock?” I believe the answer is “yes.”
My parents were imperfect, probably much like yours. I didn’t always understand why they set the limits they did, and I didn’t always feel as though their discipline or punishments were fair or just. Even when I saw them as being unjust, unfair, and just plain mean, I also knew if I was harmed in some way I could go to them. Early in life it was a scrapped knee or cut finger; later the injuries were more profound and less physical. In any case, I knew that if I asked, something would be done to diminish my pain. Not once did I ever hear, “Don’t come running to me; you brought this on yourself.” Neither did I hear, “You deserve what happened.” Instead, the boo boo got kissed, as it were.
Kissing the boo boo didn’t actually make it all better, but it certainly made it easier to bear. The affection behind that kiss, the awareness that I was in distress and they wished I weren’t, these were the things that mattered. If our imperfect parents could help us in our pain and anguish, isn’t it likely that God, with whatever faults we may imagine God to have, is better able to help us?
If today, you’d like to shake your fist at God because one of his creations did such an unspeakable act, go ahead. You join the many saints of old, such as Job who did the same thing. God can take it. If you want to ask God, even as you shake your fist, to help you manage the torrent of emotions you’re experiencing, go ahead. You won’t hear, “You got yourself into this mess; get yourself out.” You won’t hear, “You only show up when you want something.” You won’t hear anything like these things. You will hear something and, I believe firmly, you will feel something. The boo boo will feel kissed and somehow that will help.
So where is God in all this? Waiting to hear from you.