And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Suffering makes some of us angry. But this week we have witnessed most vividly that suffering evokes a response of deep sadness in those who are most closely touched by it. Is anger or sadness the path that leads to God’s justice? Is the hope for life and healing the cry for justice to which God responds? Or is it the cry for vengeance and retribution? We hope for justice. Will we be disappointed? Or will God’s justice surprise us?
I can’t say I just “watched” the unfolding drama that took place this week in Boston, beginning with the explosions planted at the Boston Marathon. I seem to have “engaged” the drama, more than simply watched it. It became part of my life and therefore I entered into the lives of those who were undergoing the drama more immediately. I engaged this drama as a person horrified by the act of violence at the finish line of an event that speaks to the human spirit of endurance, courage and stamina. In my willingness not to look away, my imagination and emotions became part of my witness to this horror. I engaged it as a mother, outraged by the death of a beloved little son. I engaged it as a woman whose friend lost both of his legs and the fellow student of a person on an international visa from another country. I engaged it as the mother of a young woman who was a vibrant spirit and a giving, generous human being – whose life was snuffed out in an instant like the flame of a candle.
To say that I engaged it from the perspective of simply seeing and hearing what was going on, compliments of my television and computer does not begin to describe the level of my participation in this terrible and tragic week in the United States.
I heard – and participated in – the cries for justice. At times, I concurred with the words of those who promised it, who claimed that they would find whoever had committed this heinous act of cowardice and pure evil. I admired the restraint exhibited by many public officials who had to give statements to the press and to fellow citizens. That could not have been easy. It must have been difficult to quell fury and rage and frustration in order to inspire others to remain calm and focused on their most immediate and pressing concerns for safety.
Then, days after the trauma of the explosions, I engaged the drama of two young men trying to elude capture, trying to escape facing the justice of law officials and the criminal justice system of the nation in which they lived. The first young man – the oldest brother, it turned out – was already dead by the time I tuned in to see the news. During the night there had been a number of incidents, each escalating the need for response and enforcement of public security in a suburb of Boston called Watertown. The younger brother, who had not been named at that time, had taken off on the run. Wild speculation in the press about who he was, what he was still capable of, and where he might be hiding kept me glued to the television for much of the morning.
As day turned to evening, and it got dark, officials still had not captured this young man. He had effectively brought the city of Boston to a standstill for most of a day. Something about this young man, on the run, likely desperate, wounded, and completely alone struck me deeply and deep within me a very dark sadness began to spread. The sadness was so overwhelming that I realized it was sadness for everyone – that my sadness was deep and profound enough that I did not have to pick “sides” in order to decide who deserved it most. I have a son and as a mother, I imagined the devastating grief a mother should feel for her son. She does not maybe see him as a cold-hearted criminal on the run from justice, even if he is that. She knows him as a scared young man, desperate, alone, frightened and hurt. Sadness can be deep enough to acknowledge the tragedy of this reality. It does not need to be replaced by a desire for revenge, for vengeance. Sadness can demand justice.
In between these different days of crisis, I engaged another sad day. I engaged the day that justice was denied at the White House in Washington. By listening to their pleas and by acknowledging their sadness, I accompanied the parents and loved ones of those killed in Newtown, Connecticut as they waited for just a small victory for justice. They waited for Congress to agree on some very basic, very common-sense gun reforms. They waited for those they trusted to open the gate, so they could enter onto the pathway of healing that leads to justice. I believe that, for these people and for all people who genuinely seek real justice, what they really pour out as a cry for justice is their sadness and grief, and that what they really seek is healing. Anything else that substitutes for those – cries of anger and entitlement, and seeking retribution and revenge – are not characteristics of real justice. Cries of entitlement were what we heard from the gun lobbyists. It made me wonder what their image of justice looks like.
Does God’s justice resemble ours? I hope and believe that the kinds of commitment exhibited by those people who express their sadness in public, instead of allowing their fear and anger to become their voice, does indeed resemble God’s justice. I hope that God’s justice is targeted towards healing, making whole what is broken, and bringing life back to deadened desires and dashed dreams. That would make these people a sign of revelation.
If God’s justice resembles ours, let it resemble our best moments of honesty, of courage, of restraint, mercy, compassion and commitment to healing. Let God’s justice engage us so that we participate in it and know that we participate in it.