scarred love


There have been several major tragic events in the UK in the past few weeks, involving significant loss of life and injury, and my heart goes out to all who have been bereaved or injured.

Recognising and honouring the incredible acts of selfless generosity and heroism that have been shown in response to these events is one way in which we can respond with hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. Responses in these extreme circumstances are of hope not hate, of kindness not cruelty, of love not loathing, of heroism not hesitation. These responses (to me) reveal glimpses of the intended qualities of the One who created human nature.

There are different levels of human culpability in these horrendous events (by which I mean that I am not wishing to prejudge the outcome of any inquiry, trial, etc). We have to accept that if humans had not acted in certain ways these tragedies may have been avoided or far less tragic. We also recognise that there is a pernicious quality to the evil side of life.


So what do we do?




Sit in dumbfounded silence


All of these and more. I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about how we feel as a first step towards being honest with one another. What emotions are we feeling? Why do we feel these things?

One response to these sorts of event is regret expressed as ‘if only’. If only’ regrets can be corrosive. They can eat away at our ability to confront the impact of what has happened and begin the long process of coming come to terms with it and how we feel about it. But I can’t help feeling a deep sense of ‘if only’ regret on behalf of the victims. All suffering and death is a vile reminder that things are not as they should be, but somehow when the victims are those we would deem to be ‘innocent’ that exacerbates our sense of outrage and indignation that it should maraud savagely into our relatively well-ordered society. So we wonder whether it could have been prevented?

‘If only’ also looks for someone to blame: someone should have done something differently. Often that ‘someone’ is someone who is not known to us. It is much more difficult to cope with when ‘if only’ points the finger of blame and someone closer to home, or even to us. The ‘if only’ blame requires someone to resign or to be convicted or to apologise. And while collectively we may feel better when that happens we transfer the blame to that person / organisation and we distance ourselves from it. But the regret remains.

If you want to blame someone, by all means blame God. If you want to complain about the injustice then give him your best shot. He can cope with the raging lashing-out of hurting people.

Writing this post today I remembered writing a lament to God a few years ago for those who died when a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. I was surprised to find that this was 18th July 2014 – how was it so long ago and how had I forgotten all about it?

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

One of the consequences of our global news social media world is that, while we feel the impact of each new tragedy more keenly because we see footage from camera phones from those who were there and we hear eyewitness accounts almost as they happen, we move onto the next one fairly rapidly with an almost macabre fascination. I could easily change the words above to reflect the most recent events. And in a few weeks’ time perhaps (please God no) there will be new events to replace those…

But when you are screaming at God when these things happen, ask him where he was and is.

God is not indifferent to our suffering.

At the risk of being insensitive to those who are suffering in ways far beyond anything I can imagine I do believe that part of the answer to that is that he is with us, he is in the pain, he feels the impact, he is screaming the screams of anguish. Why? Because he loves each one of us with love that goes far beyond that of any parent or child. He loves us because he made us lovingly. When his beloved ones are damaged, ruined, destroyed, and defiled his love – even though it remains undiminished – becomes a scarred love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.