On Friday many of us were once again glued to our radios, televisions, and computer screens, seeking information about the Connecticut elementary school and the children who remained inside. First reports said a few children had been shot and one adult, but it wasn’t long before the numbers started growing and the realities of the situation became startling clear. Once again, we were held captive by the onslaught of reports bringing us the devastating news about the children who no longer had a future and the young man who had taken it away. Almost in unison our hearts cried out: How did this happen? Why? And where was God when it took place?
A few days out you have probably heard the quips and may have seen the notes, pictures, and cartoons that blamed this tragedy on God’s absence from our schools. For example, in one cartoon a person asks God, “Why were you not there?” To which God replies, “I’m not allowed in your schools.” While it is true that in the name of religious freedom (or freedom from religion) we are not allowed to “bring” Jesus into the school, it is my belief that there is no such thing as a school where God is not present.
David knew about God’s presence, and he wrote about it in Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (verses 7-12).
There is no place on this earth or in the heavens where God’s presence is missing, whether that absence is legislated, voted, or affirmed by politicians or school boards. We may not be permitted to teach about God or to pray there, but that does not negate God’s presence. I believe God was there with that young man, speaking to him by the Holy Spirit, discouraging him from the insane act he was about to commit. God is with us always, just as Jesus promised before He ascended to heaven.
If so, why did God allow this to happen? We can blame God because He is all powerful, always present, or the school districts because they won’t let us pray, but the real truth is that we are responsible, our society, for what happened in Connecticut. We have allowed this to happen, again and again, not by allowing people to own guns, but by allowing our minds to be filled with so much gore and death and violence that others become nothing but images on a screen, that our actions no longer mean anything.
Martin Buber introduced I and Thou communication. As “Thou,” I relate to a human being with feelings, hopes, and dreams. Unfortunately, in much of our communication with others, the other is an “it.” In “I-it” communication, we don’t consider the other person a thinking, feeling individual, but just another object in our day. When that reasoning becomes concrete in our minds, reacting as this young man did is no longer unthinkable.
Did he watch too many video games with killing? Did he watch too many death-and-gore movies with gratuitous killing? Perhaps, as has been reported, he was mentally ill and was unable to recognize or feel the pain he was causing. I do know that in my everyday interactions I regularly meet people who live in the “I-it” category, no longer able to recognize or care about anyone beyond themselves.
This Sunday’s Advent emphasis is Love. Love enables us to treat another as “thou.” Without love, it becomes easy to murder—whether with a gun or with words or attitude. We, too, are killers, you see, when we fail to love our neighbors, when we tear them down and cause pain. We are destroyers when we spread rumors that take opportunities away from people and destroy relationships, when we withhold forgiveness for the purpose of causing pain and getting even. We are treating others as “it” when, with one swipe, we write them off because they are not “like us,” whether in appearance, national origin, political ideation, or worship style. I am not minimizing the tragedy in Connecticut by comparing it with these seemingly trivial things, just pointing out that it all starts somewhere, the ability to act without considering the other person.
How can we stop the madness? It always starts with me. I am the one who must change so that I can teach my neighbor. Then I pray for those around me, loving them with God’s love that never fails so they can learn as well. We must be world-changers, especially those of us who use the term Christian about ourselves, so that this may never happen again.
Mary Kay Glunt