numerically speaking

It feels like we are being inundated with bad news in the form of numbers at the moment. Tragic events are measured in the number of deaths and injured people. The aggression of a country or organisation or faction is measured by how many of their enemies they kill or maim. The culpability of countries and organisations and factions and people is quantified by how many innocent people have died at their hands.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am deeply moved and concerned by what I see and hear at the moment – aircraft shot out of the sky; rockets fired indiscriminately; artillery fire aimed at residential districts; summary executions of opponents; civil wars and rebellions; humans sold as slaves and treated like expendable commodities; Ebola outbreaks… and in all of them thousands of people have died and many more are under threat.

But the numbers of casualties that are assailing our senses and emotions do not tell us the whole story. The number of deaths tells us the scale of a tragedy, not the depth. The depth is measured in the faces of individuals who grieve and mourn the death of individuals. It is measured in the anguish and anger of those who are victims. The depth is immeasurably beyond words.

And the depth is the same no matter how many have died. Where there is conflict we are told how many have died on each ‘side’. But this is not a numbers game. This is not like the score in a sports match where the one who kills most people is the winner. Death is always a tragedy regardless of how many people it claims. When it strikes violently it always leaves behind pain, grief, anguish, loss and emptiness. And that hurts for every widow, widower, orphan and bereft person. The emotional trauma is always too deep to measure.

Contrary to popular parodies I believe that God is not remote and aloof from all of this. When his created ones are returned to him in pieces, or are vapourised, or have wounds that proved fatal, or fail to recover from contagious illness: he weeps. It breaks his heart. He shares and feels our pain. He experiences the loss.

Yes we can look at the cross on which Jesus was crucified and speak of the Father’s loss and the desolate accusation: “Why have you abandoned me?”

Yes we can look at the garden tomb and say that God knows bereavement.

But there’s more than that. He knows how we are feeling. Surely that means that he weeps with those who weep. He experiences the anguish of a mother who knows that her son is not coming home again; the desolation of a child who has suddenly become an orphan; the all-consuming crying that sobs when the tears are exhausted.

And he is simply and profoundly and silently with us. The Loving One does not seek to offer explanations or justify his existence in the face of suffering, inhumanity and death. He is simply and profoundly and silently with us – loving us, listening to us, rocking back and forth with us…

There are answers and explanations. But the time for them is not when emotions are raw and the pain is fresh. This is the time for presence.

And he calls us, human beings, to be there too.

Blessed are the peace makers – may there be lasting, just, honest God-peace.

Blessed are the protesters – may theirs be God’s voice to be heard and listened to.

Blessed are the comforters – may God’s presence be experienced through them.

Blessed are the pray-ers – may they articulate God’s heart.

Blessed are those who mourn – how will they be comforted?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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