At best we might suggest that God “dropped the ball”—failed to do what a loving God is supposed to do. Instead, it seems to me, as we read the stories of the victims we are also reading God’s obituary. By this I mean that such extreme human tragedy makes it impossible to talk about God in any useful way.
Don’t read this statement as a selfish demand for comfort, for an easy life. No, it’s recognition that nothing explains away the destruction of life’s integrity; but instead it highlights the fact that we labor in this world without cosmic aid that can protect us from us. Appeals to free will (as my comments are bound to generate) might not be a limitation God imposes on God’s self. It may simply be a weak way of saying we are in control, or what the late —philosopher of religion—called the “functional ultimacy” of human activity in the world.
I write this not to deny comfort for those who have been directly and indirectly touched by this unspeakable act of violence. Mine is an effort to acknowledge and respect grief without so quickly pushing to find some reason behind such tragedy. This loss of life is really beyond our limited human language. The loss experienced by those families, by those associated with the school, and by the collective American and human family is so intense, so absurd, so real that it calls for our full humanity beyond any talk of God.
Those who struggled to protect, to safeguard, those young lives—and those who lost their lives to the insanity of murder are more important than any appeal to God. We humans alone must remember them, keep the beauty and value of their short lives ever present through our memorials, through our reflexive words, but also through our resolve to determine and then change the patterns of socio-political and economic life that contribute to collective misery. Think gun control as impulse control, and as a reasonable effort to preserve the integrity of life by making it a little more difficult to destroy it.
I’m not taking anything away from those grieving, but rather I am calling for greater attention to the framing of life, to the regulations, and dangers embedded in our social relationships that undergird our loss. How many guns are necessary to prove we live in a democracy? How many must die before we recognize collective life requires constraint, a humility and discipline that our pleas to a special relationship with God often damage.
Sometimes it is in silence that we are best able to eulogize our collective loss, and to mourn our lack of power over the circumstances that lead to such destruction.