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, organization or faction is measured by how many of their enemies they kill or maim.
The culpability of countries, organizations and factions and people is quantified by how many innocent people have died at their hands.
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
In all of these situations, 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 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 or the score in a sports match where the one who kills the 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 experience 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, have wounds that prove fatal or fail to recover from contagious illness, God 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 God’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.
God 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.
God does not seek to offer explanations or justify his existence in the face of suffering, inhumanity and death.
The Bible reminds us that God is simply and profoundly and silently with us (see Matthew 28:20; John 14)—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—as peacemakers who seek God’s lasting peace, as protesters who speak against injustice, as comforters who embody God’s presence, and as pray-ers who articulate God’s heart.
Nick Lear is one of the pastors of Colchester Baptist Church in Essex in the United Kingdom. He will begin his work as the regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in November. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom.