Hope must trump fear in tragic times

April 20, 2013 

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes I can't remember the name of someone I've known for a year, but I'll never forget what my art teacher was wearing when we heard the space shuttle Challenger had exploded.

Sitting in the parking lot alone in my car Monday while listening to people describe the scene, I texted my husband and a dear friend, both of whom are marathoners, to verify I wasn't crazy.

"A bombing in Boston? The marathon?" "It's Monday? Do they run marathons on Mondays"?

When we got home, I turned on the TV and sent my children to their rooms. They didn't need to know how shockingly red human blood can look after it's soaked into cement sidewalks or what shrapnel can do to human flesh.

And honestly, I didn't need to know these things either. I didn't want them to hear the anguish of a mother whose daughter was killed as she sobbed, "I can't believe this is happening ... this doesn't make any sense."

It didn't. It doesn't. It doesn't make any sense.

And then there was Wednesday, Thursday, Friday … and the next horrific event that happens in our world or in our own home, and regardless of the number of gruesome pictures we see or pseudo-suspects that are being questioned, it will never make sense.

Sometimes the horror is just too unimaginable. The world bleeds, our nation bleeds, we bleed … and the memory reel just keeps playing on in our heads.

What are the images that will never be forgotten? Bombings at marathons, children massacred in schools, fertilizer plants destroying neighborhoods … May it NEVER make sense.

Several years ago I was sitting in a back pew of a church on the edge of Emory University's campus. Jim Wallis, founder and editor of the Sojourners magazine and community, was taking questions after his lecture.

He announced what would be the last question and a young woman stepped up to the microphone and asked, "How do you not fall into deep cynicism when you see all that's happening around you in the world?"

At the time, and at times, sometimes I wonder the same. What is going to keep us from living in those dark, cynical places that tell us there is no point to love, there is no point to trying because it all ends in despair.

I'll never forget Wallis' answer: You have to choose hope.

I have to stop here for a second. I know how Pollyanna, how glass-half-full, how insulting and demeaning it can sound when someone tritely responds to your shattered world, "You have to have hope."

I know what it's like to sit in the pit of despair when something precious is ripped away from you and wonder in a way that feels depressingly clear: Am I ever going to move on from this?

Christian hope isn't about glazing over horror and pain or reducing a tragic event to a bumper sticker.

It isn't about providing easy answers or explaining away why horrible things happen. Christian hope is trusting that these tragedies don't have the final word in our world.

Death and destruction are not the final words. Bloody sidewalks, maimed legs, sobbing mothers -- memories that will forever haunt us are not the final words, they are not the end of this story.

Christian hope calls us to remember a greater story, the story where Jesus lived and died for all God's people.

Where our God took on the suffering of the world and on that third day when Jesus rose from the dead, the last word wasn't death. The last word was this:

Those powers of death and destruction, those powers of hatred and greed, those powers that give rise to cynicism and despair … those powers were defeated on Easter morning.

And so, on Mondayafternoon and Wednesday morning, on Thursdayand Friday, todayand next week, may our memories of these tragic events be shattered bythe magnificent remembering of our God, whose kingdom will comeon earth as it is inheaven.

The Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas, is pastor to youth and families at Peace Presbyterian Church, 10902 Technology Terrace, Lakewood Ranch.

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