The title of this post comes from a phrase in a funeral prayer found in the Book of Common Worship. It is a prayer to be offered at the death of a child. Death at any age, more painfully so, the death of a child – any child – for any reason is a perplexity. “Why?” is our cry to heaven. “How could this happen?” with fist raised in anger becomes our demonstration before God.
Since we are in the midst of Advent and Christmas our attention in matters religious focus on the birth of the Christ child. Several times I have read quotes from others incorporating the slaughter of the innocents by Herod recorded in Matthew 2. This year I am more aware that the sound of weeping is found not only in Ramah but in Newtown, CT; in Syria; in China and Japan; in South Africa; in South and Central America; and in many communities around the world.
The “slaughter of the innocents” is but one Biblical account of tragedy. As I remember others I find myself more and more perplexed. We read similar events in Exodus where the Hebrew children were to be slaughtered lest the people become too numerous for the political regime. We read of the slaughter of the innocents as the angel of death hovers over Egypt looking for bloodied doorposts. We lament alongside Jacob who has been misled into thinking that a beloved son, Joseph was dead. I can only imagine the perplexity in Abram’s mind when he receives word that he is to be the instrument to slaughter an innocent who is his son. Or King David who weeps unconsolably at the death of a newborn son and later at the death of a rebellious, hate-filled Absalom. It is not King David but David the father, who cries to God, “If it had only been me who died…”
On Friday, December 14 we became a nation in perplexity as we learn that 20 children and 7 adults had been slaughtered. We question. We grieve. We become angry. I doubt that few parents throughout our land have ignored our children this weekend. I suspect that we’ve kept a watchful eye on where they are, who they are with, and how they might perceive that something isn’t right in the world.
The funeral prayer continues, “help us to trust in you.” It may be difficult for many people to trust in anything right now. Little seems to be trustworthy. When systems fail and the innocent suffer we are perplexed. We ask, albeit, too late…what could have been done more effectively or differently to prevent such tragedy?
A friend shared that what happened in Newtown reveals that chaos exists in our world. A gunman barges into a school where he creates a devastating scene of external chaos. Early reports suggest that mental health issues played a role in his state of mind – an internal chaos that leads to abhorrent behavior. We are perplexed over the many issues this event brings. What do we do about caring for those with mental health issues? How do we curb the illegal use of guns or the ability to obtain them so easily? How do we balance freedom with responsibility?
Another participant in the conversation reminded me that when Jesus’s disciples find themselves caught in the chaos of the storm, Jesus speaks to the chaos and it abates but does not vanish. These disciples will encounter the chaos of other storms.
The tragedy at Newtown, CT will not be the last one. Chaos will once again shake us and we will be perplexed. We will ask the same questions, cry similar tears and speak the same concerns and prayers for peace. Trust will be shaken yet trust will be strengthened because we know that despite whatever evil befalls us, God will not abandon us.
“In our perplexity, help us to trust in you.”