Psalm 103: 13-14
As a parent shows compassion to his children, so God shows compassion to those who fear the Lord. For God knows how we are made; God knows that we are dust.
This time it’s Boston, but it has been elsewhere more times than we can count. It happened Monday at the Marathon in the midst of joy on a gorgeous day with people at their best, but it’s happened at other celebrations on other days that were just as fine when no one was remembering grievances or hard times or fretting over problems at work.
This time it’s our children and our grown-ups who left their houses in Lincoln and Brockton and Natick to come into town and cheer Dad’s first time; or hope that Sis, who dropped out last year, would finally find her legs and cross the line, and ended up legless, maimed for life. But this was not the first trip to a city that ended in death, not the only thoroughfare along which children and grown-ups who love each other have had their lives shattered in a few seconds of violence.
This is not to minimize Boston; it is to say that Boston would be bad enough all by itself if it weren’t also everywhere and everything and everyone. Boston is not an aberration, even if we persist in thinking that ‘things like this’ don’t happen here, or that they shouldn’t, or that when they do happen to us it is somehow a worse thing or a more meaningful thing than when, say, a drone wreaks havoc on a wedding in Afghanistan.
What happened here was a horrific instance, one more among too many horrific instances of what we human beings do, what we are full of, every bit as much as we are full of tenderness, heroism, and impulses towards pardon and peace. It’s what we do, this destruction and chaos, this sowing of terror, every bit as much as we do good. It is who we are too, this callous heart, this heartless strike; it is not something alien to us.
No unrecognizable monster did this. No ‘other.’ A human being did it. Someone like us in more ways than unlike. We belong to that person; that person belongs to us. We ourselves did not plant the bombs, but we could have. We are capable of it. Another person planted them, cruelly and coldly, but he might not have. He might have been otherwise and done good with his life, because he was and still is capable of it.
You may not want to hear this about that person, or about yourself. I don’t like thinking of myself this way. But it’s a denial we cannot afford any more. We never could, but now more than ever we need to stop carving out exceptional places and exceptional disasters and exceptional monsters and postures of exceptional moral self-regard and innocence. The sooner we do and start living more honestly into the complex truth of human being, the sooner we may find a way forward in this precious, fragile life.
You know how we are made, that we are dust, with hearts faithful and frail, lives that could go either way. Keep us in your way, O God, so that we learn to do no harm, stand tenderly with the harmed, and somewhere find compassion for all out human kin, the good and the bad, on whom you send your rain, on whom your sun still shines.
Retired seminary professor and United Church of Christ pastor