By Mark A. Taylor
Death intrudes into thousands of lives every day. But to each individual losing someone close, death seems like a singular experience. I remember the comment of a good friend whose dad died decades ago.
He returned to his job after several days grieving with his family and found everything there decidedly unchanged. “Everyone’s just doing what they usually do, working on their own tasks as if nothing has happened,” he said. Here he was, trying to cope with his life that had been upended. But everyone around him, it seemed, was getting along just fine.
This seems wrong if not incomprehensible to the sufferer. But the dependable sunrise of each new morning and the familiar routine of a world continuing its business can actually be a blessing. Despite any one person’s pain, the world still turns. And each new day brings challenges and opportunities to show sufferers how needed they are by those who remain.
I thought about this after hearing news reports on the December 14 anniversary of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. How is that stricken community coping now?
The front page of the local newspaper, The Newtown Bee, doesn’t tell the whole story, but it suggests an answer. Every item there last week conveyed the normal and the usual: a report on the success of the high school wrestling team, an announcement of bids for a sewer system expansion, news about financing for a community center, a progress report on the high school auditorium renovation. What has changed in Newtown because of its tragedy? Everything, of course. But, in terms of everyday life, nothing.
But does this mean that healing and hope have come to all the Newtown residents? That seems doubtful. Knowing that life must go on is not enough to bring real peace. We need something outside ourselves and our routine to help us cope with the incomprehensible, to heal from the unimaginable. Many families of Sandy Hook victims are giving themselves to gun control. But they, and we, need something better than an idea or a cause. That something is Someone. That Someone is who we celebrate as we once again come to Christmas in the shadow of suffering and death.
Many this year are disillusioned by a world that feels like it’s spinning out of control. We wonder when a misguided gunman will terrorize our school, our church, our shopping center. We weary of political debate that offers more rhetoric than reality and suggests far fewer solutions than we can believe in. We chafe under medical bills too high and salaries too small. Many of us suffer, and most of us know too well someone who is grieving.
The horrible bloodshed in Newtown—or San Bernardino or Paris or Syria—reminds us that pain and death are woven into the fabric of every life in every age. But at Christmas we remember that we do not suffer alone. Ben Cachiaras put it well in his blog post we quoted just after the Sandy Hook shooting:
God identifies with the suffering. Christ followers believe that in Jesus, God became vulnerable to and involved in the suffering and death of this world! . . . He was born screaming in the cold night through travail, onto matted animal straw through a birth canal of a woman who endured excruciating pain. There was blood in the manger. There was blood on the cross. And if it weren’t shocking enough to see God show up covered with mucous and membranes, we see him on the cross and we come to the staggering realization that God now knows what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack.
My friend is the age his father was those decades ago when his father died of a heart attack. And last week we were praying for my friend as he underwent bypass surgery to restore his own damaged heart. The experience reminds me again that the cycle of pain and fear will not end for those bound to this earth.
But at Christmas we remember that our suffering is no mystery to God. He came as a crying infant to become a groaning Savior in a mission that offers us the promise of a future without loss or grief. This is why we celebrate.