Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walking the Line

A recent news story is the death of a Yale graduate student who disappeared mysteriously, then her body was found in a basement wall in the same research building where she worked. Her body was found the day she was supposed to marry a Columbia grad student. Since the research building has a pervasive security system, police are searching for suspects among people who’ve access to the facilities. The thought of your fiancee disappearing and then found murdered … words fail to convey the feelings you’d have. Words fail when you’re just an person on the sofa, watching the news.

Another scary story appeared on my online news in late August. I don’t know if this story made the national television media, since I didn’t have the TV on much that week. A pastor in Anadarko, Oklahoma, was found murdered in her church. She’d been stabbed multiple times and her body was left unclothed and in the position of a crucifix. The woman drove 60 miles each Sunday to preach at this church, which didn’t even have a regular congregation but she preached to and prayed with whomever attended. Police are still working on the case.

Yesterday was the 108th anniversary of the death of President William McKinley, who died as a result of an assassin’s bullet. When I taught a class on Ohio presidents, I noted the tragic irony that McKinley survived the entire Civil War without a scratch--even the hideous battle of Antietam--but died because of one stupid fool with a pistol. No one thinks too much about President McKinley anymore, but at the time, his death was an overwhelming tragedy on the order of the 1960s assassinations.

I affirm God’s providential care, but in my own thinking, I don’t always “integrate” life’s awful, tragic elements which occur in thousands and millions of incidents each day. I put “integrate” in quotation marks because none of us can, after all, fathom either the extent of God’s care nor the terrible things that happen. It's a hard line to walk: to affirm the truth of God’s care while, simultaneously, acknowledging tragedies that seem to mock the comforts of one's faith. But walking that line is necessary if we’re to praise God's active tenderness while responding honestly and compassionately to the human condition.

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