When something like this happens in the U.S., we stop. We have to stop, because it feels disrespectful not to. Because we can’t get our heads or hearts around it at the pace we normally live.
And we should stop, to allow ourselves to be sad. To grieve with those who grieve. To reflect on what something like this demands of us for the future.
And when, or perhaps because, it involved American children, we feel the weight of it all the more.
What if we also stopped for other family’s babies?
What if we also stopped to acknowledge the over 28,000 children under age 5 who died that day too?
And every day since then. And 28,000 children under age 5 will die from preventable causes again today.
What if we admitted, and apologized, for the fact that we have acted like American children’s lives matter more than those of Asian children or African children?
Painful things can close our hearts to more pain; we reach a max capacity and cannot absorb more. Or so we think. By that logic we are tempted to excuse ourselves from feeling the weight of the tragedy of preventable death for children around the globe.
It’s too heavy. It would crush us.
We are coming up on Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of our God, who opted out of heaven to join the lives we live on earth. Who demonstrated his capacity to understand our pain by entering right into it.
The shortest verse in Scripture reads, “Jesus wept.” His friend, a friend of their whole community, had died.
In seminary, I took an entire class on the book of John, working through it in the Greek with a Johanine scholar. She asked us what that verse meant; why did John put that in? I didn’t know, but did offer this: I had always been told, over and over, that Jesus weeping demonstrates that he was indeed fully human. He cried like we cry and felt like we feel.
And it has to point to his humanity, people reasoned, because Jesus was about to raise that friend back to life. Since the “God-part” of Jesus knew that a happy ending was coming, it must be the “human-part” of Jesus that is grieving in the moment.
She nodded, clearly having heard the same argument herself. Her lips tightened. She inhaled slowly, then answered,
“I always hear that Jesus weeping shows he was really human. Why in the world do we assume that? Why is it not that his weeping shows that he is God?”
I have never read those two words the same.
This is the response of our God to the suffering of our world. And God, despite knowing the good he will bring from evil, the life he will bring from death, the light that will overcome darkness, truly weeps alongside us when something terrible happens.
We are so scared of feeling sad, and work so hard not to have to. But there are worse things than sadness. Callousness is one of them. So what if we also stopped to let all the sad things prod the tender spots in our hearts, and trusted that Immanuel, God with us, will meet us there, weep with us, and keep the weight of it from crushing us?