It's utterly eerie to follow this story while rewriting my Bonhoeffer paper. It's easy to see why Bonhoeffer declared that the "God who is with us is the God who forsakes us." How can anyone defend the idea of God's supernatural presence or involvement in the events of daily life when we witness the scale of evil perpetrated here? The idea that God offers comfort or strength in the midst of tragedy is almost blasphemous, by that measure. What is needed is not comfort or strength but intervention. We must face squarely that God did not intervene, rescue, or save the victims, nor did God confound or over-ride the perpetrator's choice.
Comfort and strength come from shared suffering and hard work to rebuild what was destroyed, not from some ethereal source.
When we look to a supernaturally, divinely intervening God, we are creating a God that does not correspond with reality. Bonhoeffer, in reflecting on God's abscence during WWII, states that God expects us to "live as men who manage our lives without [God]... Before God and with God, we live without God."
We are a world come of age. It is time for us to take responsibility to shape our future, to take our share of responsibility for the historical moment. It's not a time for us to be drawing theological boundaries around the tenets of our faith. This is not a time to protect God's reputation.
Rather, we have to ask ourselves hard questions about how our way of life contributes to the escalating violence that is inherent in our culture. It is not enough to simply declare "sin is always with us." That is a decidedly unbiblical way to look at the tragedy we are facing. That attitude promotes apathy, not conviction, not a willingness to confront evil. It is not enough to declare that we must love each other or pray more. It is quite possible that this kind of evil is connected to how we conduct life in America. That question has to be asked and addressed.
As those seized by the vision Jesus casts, we must ask how we exist for others in this context. In what way does my life contribute to or oppose the structures that enable random acts of violence in our country? In what ways may I be a part of the healing or recovery from such acts?
The "God who is sovereign" is of no use here. That view renders people passive, leaves them declaring mystery as the solution to the problem of evil and God's relationship to it, rather than putting God at the center of life. What if Bonhoeffer had taken that attitude during WWII?
Bonhoeffer asks "What is God's will for me in this situation?" not "How does evil fit into God's plan?" The first question thrusts me into public life and expects me to take my share of responsibility in shaping out future. I am forced to ask hard questions about gun control, safety, national security, personal responsibility for self-defense and so on. The second thrusts me into theological rumination (and often, justification for a lack of participation in the sufferings of others), not meaningful engagement.
This morning, I keep thinking about what it means to share in the sufferings of others. I don't yet know what it is, but I do know that my conviction that we need some kind of gun control has grown.