The routine of Monday’s workday was blown apart by incoming reports of bombs exploding at the finish line of the iconic Boston Marathon.
Someone’s, or some group’s, hatred of the way life’s race is being run motivated them to detonate hidden death-devices designed to do maximum carnage to the bodies of indiscriminate children and adults, athletes and spectators.
The evil that envelops such a plan is staggering and, potentially, demoralizing.
How do we feel, much less respond, to such a vile act? What do we do with our outrage and abhorrence at this ungodly disregard for life’s sanctity?
Should we be afraid of every stranger, every crowd? Where do we even stand emotionally? Does “love your enemies” apply to this situation?
Is it even possible to engage a mentality that is so disapproving of the world, as it is interpreted by these actors, that it justifies conceiving and constructing such intentional destruction and grief?
As a minister, I routinely come alongside people who are forced to deal with the pain of loss. Some lose a loved one to death, be it an accident or health-related illness, which brings a sudden end to a cherished relationship.
These losses are extremely hard to take, but, at some level, provide an explanation or cause that, while grievous, makes sense.
Fires rob the surrounding space of needed oxygen and kill people. Cars crashing kill people. Cancer destroys needed cells and people die.
Ministers also walk with those who must face loss that is less “natural” but still real.
Broken promises in relationships. Moments of personal failure that alter one’s future. Opportunities forever lost.
We know these things happen in life, but they don’t have to happen. They can be avoided but weren’t.
And yet, the grieved can see the source of the pain, even when it is hard to accept, and they learn to adjust to the new reality born of disappointment and sin.
Even murders can be understood at some level.
A tragedy like Sandy Hook, while senseless at many levels, can find an explanation. Rage or revenge or greed or jealousy or insanity or some deadly combination was the catalyst.
We may not be able to comprehend the logic, but at least we can identify a cause.
But an act like Monday’s planted bombs forces those of us who live in generally safe and happy worlds to consider how we contend with the presence of a rage that is bent on destruction for no explicit or implicit reason.
We are forced to acknowledge that there is a battle being fought, though the boundaries, the enemy and reason for the conflict are vague and amorphous.
We are on a side, though our role and our weapons for defense and offense are unclear.
Religions, at their best, speak of faith, hope and love.
Written on a page, these words look limp in the face of words like bombs, terror and death. And yet, when activated, they carry their own punch.
Faith names the active presence of life’s sacredness that continually gives birth to powerful possibilities.
Hope plays the long game, and is not dependent on winning every skirmish in the battle. It reminds us that we are part of a whole that will continue long after our work is done.
Love is heaven’s lightning in a bottle. It illuminates the atrocity, exposes the evil and, like the sun, activates life.
It reminds us we cannot be content simply to “get those bastards who did this,” but compels us to apply love’s lightning to every dark place that breeds the germs of hate and fear.
This is sacred work.
Yesterday’s exposure of evil – in Boston, the historic city of the new beginning of liberty – once again puts our nation on alert to the dangers of the darkness all around.
May it also put those who bear the light of love on alert to the importance of their work.
Joseph Phelps is pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.