Wisdom of Solomon 1:13b (NRSV)
God does not delight in the death of the living...
I kinda want to put this verse on a bumper sticker, or maybe paint it on the walls of our churches in curly calligraphy. I'd like it emblazoned on banners hung across Main Street in every major city - starting with Staten Island, Ferguson, Cleveland, and Baltimore, but moving on to my hometown and your hometown. I want it printed in big, friendly letters on business cards we could hand out by the score: "God does not delight in the death of the living."
To be clear, I'm not particularly interested in wading into the Greco-Platonic debate about the source of evil and the nature of immortality. Yes, these verses were influenced by the time and place in which they were written. Yes, you might hear the murmured voice of Philo or the Christian Stoics just behind the text. But I hear a different debate, because I just read the newspaper, including stories about teens killing a teen in Paterson, NJ; police killing young people in Rio de Janeiro; and teenagers killing a child in Mexico City. I'm reading Solomon's wisdom in light of protests by communities devastated by the deaths of young people - some at the hands of the police; some at the hands of other young people.
In the wake of tragedy, we try to explain our loss by suggesting that God has a plan. I suspect She does, but God does not delight in the death of the living. Violent death after violent death - that's not God's plan. To paraphrase words Sloan Coffin spoke at the funeral for his own son: When a young person dies tragically, God's heart is the first to break. It seems to me, we should stop breaking God's heart. It's a poor way to thank the one who bestowed life, who 'created all things that they might exist' (v. 14) - and not just exist but thrive. Perhaps our response to that precious gift ought to be to cherish life, protect and defend it, to put our very bodies between death-dealing forces and the young people who are being felled by them every day. Here's the debate that rings in my ears: which of the lives of God's children really do matter?
Lover of Life: Forgive us, we pray, for breaking your heart. Teach us to delight in ALL your children, starting with the black and brown children whose names and faces keep showing up in the newspaper (and those whose stories never get written). Amen.
Editor's Note: Because of publication deadlines, Rev. Buttrick Patton submitted this reflection well before the Charleston killings on June 17th. We observe, with terrible sadness, the recurrence of violent death which makes her words timely some days after they were written.