The last few weeks have been somewhat challenging as events far and near have impinged on the rhythm of ordinary life demanding attention, a response both rational and emotional. Some realities however are difficult to fathom, let alone understand with any degree of objectivity. Feeling often gets in the way of thinking.
The death of Moaz al-Kasasbeh in Syria was, by any measure, brutal, horrific and without any reasonable justification; the duplicitous ease with which his captors negotiated with Jordan the release of a man already dead was shocking. Retrospectively, the image of the Jordanian’s father pleading for his son’s life, ‘a guest among brothers’ is poignant and heart breaking. How difficult it is to navigate these turbulent ethical waters… the fact that Moaz al-Kasasbeh had himself been involved in an act of aggression against ‘brothers’ seems almost peripheral set against the callous cruelty of his own death. All this violence executed, seemingly, in the name of God.
Hardly surprising then that God is not held in high esteem by some… “Stephen Fry,” ran a headline recently, “…lets rip at the very idea of God” Gay Byrne from RTE invited Stephen Fry to imagine what he would say to God, should he ever arrive at the gates of heaven? The reply came with all the vehemence that you would expect, “Bone cancer in children, what’s that about; how dare you, how dare you create a world where there is so much pain and it’s not our fault…Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded, stupid God who creates a world so full of injustice and pain…?” These are not questions we, religious people, can duck, no matter what rationalisation we may choose to give them, because Stephen Fry and other atheists are not alone in asking them.
Shakaira Seraphin died last month, she was 12 years old. The circumstances of her death are not yet fully known and the police are continuing their enquiries. Her death is a horrible tragedy regardless of circumstances. The horror and the sadness are tangible wherever Shakaira was known and the group of young people who came to lay flowers and light candles at St John’s Church were clearly distraught. There are shadows here and the spectre of bullying surfaces. Once again, then, the rational mind struggles to cope with emotion. Shakaira and her mother Leona were baptised at St John’s four years ago. In preparation for her baptism Shakaira was bubbly, warm and bright and asked searching questions about God and her baptism. In the midst of all this, Leona and her family are coping with unimaginable suffering.
We may well ask, we do ask, why?
People who impute God with a callous disregard for human suffering at best or who claim that he is a figment of human imagination seem still to be searching for justice, still seeking to place human suffering in context, to grasp and understand its meaning, perhaps because an alternative randomness to suffering appears chaotic and yes, meaningless, without purpose. Some may wish to believe but it is hard to juxtapose love with bone cancer, burning alive or a desperately untimely death.
On the cross in Golgotha Jesus, God, Love, dies an ignominious death, isolated, rejected, betrayed, abandoned. There he screams the why of deepest human forsakenness, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani1?’ (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Jesus’ why does not in itself justify or explain, give obvious meaning or context or purpose to the suffering of the world but it does offer a resting place, a place where suffering is known and recognised and where it is transformed beyond comprehension, a place where it, suffering, meets God and where love changes everything.