The God who cries when children die

The God who cries when children die December 14, 2012

“The history of our world is the history of our suffering together. Every act of evil extracts a tear from God, every plunge into anguish extracts a sob from God. But the history of our world is the history of our deliverance together. God’s work to release himself from his suffering is his work to deliver the world from its agony; our struggle for joy and justice is our struggle to relieve God’s sorrow. When God’s cup of suffering is full, our world’s redemption is fulfilled. Until justice and peace embrace, God’s dance of joy is delayed (91).”

Our God cries when children die.

The above quote captures this brilliantly on a day when unthinkable tragedy has taken place. It may be the most profound statement on suffering that I have ever read.

For those of us who recognize YHWH as fully revealed in Jesus Christ as one who meets humanity in their suffering, who experiences the full wrath of the powers of evil with us; his anguish reminds us of our coming deliverance. Rather than claiming, this was God’s will or God knows best or God has a plan for everything; Nicholas Wolterstorff, the author of Lament for a Son, rightly reminds us of a God who is truly with us and is opposed to evil.

The world of Wolterstorff is a world that we are all well acquainted with on this painful day of violence in Connecticut. This is a world of loss. A world of instability. Today we grieve in light of such a world where a troubled young man can get to the point where he willfully murders children and educators.

Yet, we followers of Jesus believe that this is also a world filled with the hope that all things in creation will be set right at the return of Christ. “When the writer of Revelation spoke of the coming of the day of shalom, he did not say that on that day we would live at peace with death. He said that on that day ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (63). This tension gives us hope, but if we are not careful, can give us a way to gloss over legitimate grief.

Until the day when “all things will be made new,” Wolterstorff reminds us that death is not beautiful or a reality to be hyper-spiritualized to ignore the reality of its sting; “death is awful, demonic” (34). Scripture makes clear that the “…last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15.26). It is a power that brings grief, which makes the reality of today less fulfilled. To give easy answers to those who grieve would be to water down biblical theology and to offer “…ways of not looking death and pain in the face, ways of turning away from death out there to one’s own inner ‘grief process’ and then, on that, laying on the heavy hand of rationality” (54).

When we, as the body of Christ, care for our grieving sisters and brothers, we must not turn to simple fixes offered in self-help books or answers emerging from such philosophies; rather, we have the opportunity to help others find joy amidst the demonic pain of death. We can guide others to not ignore the evil of death, but to also honor the memory of those who have been lost by living in light of their life – which was stolen from them.

As we lament the loss of these precious 20 children and several adults, may we refuse to offer easy answers. As we pray, console, question, and cry, we are invited to throw our whole selves into the loving arms of a Father who feels our pain in solidarity with us. Remember these simple but truthful words: “Every act of evil extracts a tear from God.”

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  • Joyce

    God cries when children die? Give me a break. God does nothing to stop children from dying. Go deeper than free will. Why did your God not intervene when mental illness started invading this young man’s mind? Why did your God not change some small thing in this man’s life that would have made a difference today? Your God doesn’t cry for our suffering. If anything he delights in it. Otherwise there would not be so much of it.

    • Neil

      We love our freedom, we hate our freedom. We despise the bad and the ugly. We take the good for granted. We were all free to reach out and intervene in this man’s life and we didn’t. Who’s fault? Yours. Mine. Maybe your neighbour is suffering in silence. Reach out now.

  • Barchetta

    There isn’t a word of brilliance I can think of to quote today. Only feelings of mourning and longing for the comfort that only Jesus Christ can provide to victims and family and to heal our broken world.

  • Bruce

    Christians have enabled this to happen. They have allowed their gullibility and their fear make them support the agent of the NRA, which is to buy more guns!

    Violence to combat violence. What could be more American, or more Christian? Or less Christ-like.

  • America is like some small town that refuses to install stop lights, and every time an accident happens we rush out with prayers and soul-searching articles about evil and how its just so hard to explain life’s unpredictability. Meanwhile, the neighboring towns are using stop lights, and people rarely die in car accidents.
    We can overspiritualize this tragedy, or we can admit there are too many guns in the U.S., and mass shootings are becoming a monthly event — and those two factors are linked. We’ve fetishized the Second Amendment and we are allowing schoolkids and moviegoers to get mowed down and we use the rhetoric of “freedom” to cover our ridiculous lack of action. We’re amazing hypocrites.

  • Susan Burns

    It is time for fundamentalist Christians to STOP scaring our children. The world will not end soon. There will not be tribulation until Jesus raptures the chosen few. Some children cannot overcome the anxiety this fear produces. They grow up and think they need to hoard weapons for the coming apocalypse. The more anxiety they feel the more weapons they hoard. It will take a generation to alleviate the anxiety caused by this neurosis even if you stop it today. STOP SCARING OUR KIDS!!!!!

  • Sventheagile

    Either God is willing to stop this and does not, which makes God evil, or God is willing but unable which makes God impotent.
    Free will over innocence is not an excuse.