At this point we’re all too familiar with the details surrounding Monday’s tragedy in Boston.
The timing and location of the explosions…
The death and destruction…
The relentless, full-scale investigation…
The frustration and sadness…
The sheer weight of human suffering has once again cast a pale over our nation and the story has grown tired.
As always, in the face of manifest evil we’re drawn again to that pervasive, unyielding question: “Why?”
It takes many forms and substantiates our collective, visceral reaction.
From there, we splinter off. As individuals, we face the temptation to objectify or ignore reality and react on a continuum between denial and fatalism – answers that are, frankly, too easy.
But I think there is one real answer – a reason for what motivates people to crash planes into buildings, spray bullets into packed movie theatres, plant bombs in trashcans, or otherwise destroy themselves and/or other people.
It’s a hard and messy answer that calls into question everything we think we believe…
A lethal absence of hope.
Let’s start with this difficult truth: America is not a Christian nation.
A few people already want to crucify me.
I never write to offend and I don’t like offending people, but I try hard not to be afraid of doing so where necessary – and what I just said is true.
Yes, I know all about the foundations of our nation and I love them. But the vestiges of Puritanical influence can also be remarkably unhelpful.
They let us off easy and thereby insulate us from the lethal absence of hope that torments us.
For many, God is an Easter god who promises new life with no strings attached and has an affinity for chocolate…
An Independence Day god who is unabashedly American and wants to bless this most hedonistic of all nations…
A Thanksgiving god to whom we should remember to offer obligatory thanks at least once a year…
Or, a Christmas god somehow affiliated with pine trees, gifts, and childish anticipation…
These cheap, worthless gods have no answers for our suffering and offer no comfort and no substance. They cannot inoculate against the lethal absence of hope – in fact, their impotence only exacerbates it.
But I believe there is One who can – and does – address our lethal absence of hope.
I’d guess at least half of those reading this just shut the tab and went back to Facebook. Another quarter just threw up in their mouths! I don’t blame you – you’ve probably heard a lot of bull$#!t.
But hang with me for a second.
The real Jesus is a huge problem for those with shallow, commoditized ‘religion’ – He actually promises suffering.
Not as a sadist – but as a realist.
You see, contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not an analgesic. If that’s what religion is to you, just move on down the line because this faith will sorely disappoint you.
Jesus does not promise you riches, career advancement, good parking spots, good health, or insulation from tragedy.
However, getting past that expectation allows us to move from a holiday faith to a deep, profound, messy faith.
The kind that presses you to your core convictions and brings you face to face with your deepest, most troubling questions – including the disconcerting “why” in the face of tragedy.
In that place, even the practicality of pain relief is left far behind.
Truth becomes the singular issue – and with truth, hope.
Tragedy helps us see that we have a deeper problem than our problems. It’s called sin, and it leads to a lethal absence of hope. It leads to suffering – but that’s not the end of the story.
As the story goes, that lethal absence of hope was dealt with on a cross two thousand years ago. More importantly, the final chapter has been written and does not include suffering.
Jesus knew this!
The Bible says that He endured the cross not for the sake of suffering, but for the hope set before Him.
He came from heaven – from the place where people from every tongue, tribe, and nation worship the Lord God Almighty – from perfection. He knew very tangibly the reality of the final chapter, and that’s what propelled Him through the suffering of the cross.
So where does that leave us, this week, as vulnerable people, reeling from another blow dealt by the lethal absence of hope?
In the midst of our malaise, I hope this tragedy brings many people face-to-face with hard questions that move us past the Americanized, panacea Jesus to the manifestation of God’s desire to connect with us in the midst of all the dirtiness of reality.
And for those of us who know Him, I hope it inspires us to redouble our efforts.
To alleviate suffering if it’s in our power to do so…
To alleviate loneliness by being a companion…
And to alleviate isolation by resisting the temptation to marginalize other people’s suffering with cheap sound bytes and slogans.
Scripture doesn’t provide all the answers to suffering, but it does provide the most important One.
And He is hope.