Here we are again. Another mass shooting on US soil. This time in Sutherland Springs, TX at their First Baptist Church. And, as most of the shootings of this scale are, this one too was apparently at the hands of a US citizen. Really, there are no words. But as the Apostle Paul said, “I will be a fool and speak…” In my opinion, there are few of us who can offer any prayers that would actually bring even a sliver of true comfort to anyone but ourselves. And what is the value of a million tweets when something like this just happened a month ago and nothing changed. And let us not think that we are telling God anything that God doesn’t already know or feel when these things happen. Being infinitely compassionate, I can only imagine that God’s capacity for hurt when these tragedies occur extends deeper than we can ever possibly fathom.
While I admittedly have some compassion for those who are intimately suffering from this tragedy, I am simply incapable of feeling what they are feeling in any way that could ease their suffering. And honestly, like most people, I cannot go too deep into my thoughts of it because their vulnerability makes me uncomfortably aware of my own. Despite the fact that I am willing to go there to some extent, I cannot maintain it for my own well-being. On the contrary, I believe that God is reeling from this situation and will grieve for as long as there is someone who has not healed from this experience and every experience of human suffering.
You see, I am of the opinion that whatever we experience temporarily, God experiences eternally–both what we call the good and what we call the bad. I could be wrong, but I just get the impression that God is not in the rejection and denial business. God accepts, period. I know that sounds difficult to imagine when we hear a lot of stories about who is out with God, but I don’t buy it because I don’t think that God is separate from anything that is. So if we hurt, God hurts. If we laugh God laughs. If we suffer God suffers. As German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann says, “God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.”
I came to consider the suffering of God first in contemplation on the tenet of my tradition that declares that we are to love all–even our enemies–as ourselves. This awareness was reinforced when I fell in love and realized how the experience of the person I cared for affected me. And this awareness was cemented when I became a father and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I cannot separate myself from the experiences of my children.
Now imagine what God–who arguably should have an infinite attention span–must feel when we go through and put ourselves and others through unnecessary pain. Add to this our capacity for blaming God for the suffering in the world and it makes sense why the Psalmist asked, “…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” However, when we consider that God truly is One, God’s mindful awareness of us and care for us cannot be in question. And consequently, God suffers in caring for us just as we suffer in our care for others. Only God cannot and will not talk Godself out of pure feeling and does not pick and choose who to care for. In a way, this infinite capacity for uninterrupted care is what makes God, God. In this way, I agree with the point of view of Moltmann who in his book, Crucified God wrote:
“…a God who cannot suffer is poorer than any man. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.”
Granted not everyone can agree with this sentiment. I think the thought of a God who truly has such experiences is difficult for some to consider because it might seem that such a God might find it difficult to be there for us in our time of need. Another thought is that we might feel bad about bringing our problems to someone who has problems of their own. But in my opinion, this is precisely why we can confidently come to God with our problems. One because God know what it is like. And two, because God is also relieved when we get to a place when we can handle some of our challenges ourselves–just as a parent wants to be there for their children and yet is relieved when the child proves themselves capable of increasingly taking care of themselves.
Taking all of this into consideration, in situations like this shooting, I remember to pray for God too–praying that we finally do something different than what we’ve done every other time something like this happens.
Prayer for God
Suffering God, I’m sorry for my part in all of this needless suffering in the world. I apologize for any divisiveness or self-righteousness that might make me unapproachable to anyone. Help me to grow in compassion and to willingly change any behavior or belief that does not foster true unity and justice. Help me to remember that even the most mundane encounter with another can be an invitation to encounter and share in your life shifting grace. Let me never forget that withholding kindness is no different than causing harm. Therefore, help me to love myself as you love me so that I can clearly see how you can love all–even those who I am tempted to call “enemy”. Also God, I pray for your suffering to be relieved. Though you are infinitely gracious, I pray that I can be appropriately gracious as well, so that you do not have to continue to pick up my slack. From the awareness of your eternal love I pray.