By Joseph Phelps
Today’s news, from wars to weather, make many wonder if our world is spinning toward disintegration. Will bad news win in the end?
Albert Einstein theorized, “God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God.”
Sometimes the hopeful trajectory of the world is detected more by its absence than its presence.
We love those occasions when we see clearly this hopeful trajectory, when life is as it ought to be — a dispute resolved by understanding; an awakening to what is important and true and right; an undeniable healing of body, mind or spirit; being present when someone repents of wrong and embraces right.
These are the moments preachers like me live to see. We tout them as signs of hope which show the movement of life, however imperceptible, onward and upward.
In the parlance of my profession — the kingdom, or reign, of God.
These moments are usually subtle and easily overlooked. They can be appreciated, but often go unnamed and more often rationalized away. Still, hooray for the good times!
Sadly, more frequent are scenes bereft of any sense of the sacred trajectory to this world. To open a newspaper or to watch a reputable news show is to be bombarded with stories utterly void of beauty or hope.
In recent weeks we’ve heard stories of thousands of children the age of my beloved grandson and granddaughter who were given over to the care of coyotes by their Central American parents in hopes and prayer that they might make it away from the death sentence of life on the streets of their birthplace and into the relative safety in this country.
A whistling vacuum of fear, despair and helplessness accompany these stories. Together they ring out the question — where is hope? Or, again in my parlance, where is God?
The back stories of these junior refugees is equally haunting. Out of control gangs, many of them adolescents themselves and victims of hopelessness, terrorize poor cities and force children into their system, creating a culture that kills itself. Businesses are forced to relocate. Families are exiled from their neighborhoods. There seems no realistic way to survive other than to join and kill, or to flee.
So parents send off their beloved children into the unknown, the ultimate sacrifice of love, in hopes that they might survive. The parents would flee as well, but there’s no country to welcome them. Perhaps their children can find a life.
Or take the stories of carnage in the relentless battles between political and military leaders in Israel and Palestine. Children forever maimed in a dispute that is not theirs, while adults point fingers, assign blame, rehearse grudges and continue to launch their missiles of bodily and spiritual destruction.
Or the story of the plane load of non-combatants shot down over Ukraine by rebels who are so angry and hopeless and directionless that they simply want to shoot something, anything.
Where is God?
I wonder if God, or whatever name you assign to the mystery and sacredness of life, is what we detect in that familiar brassy taste in our mouths after hearing such hopeless stories?
What if the ringing absence of beauty and love is an indirect validation of our intuition that something sacred and healing longs to be revealed and presented?
Could our common horror to today’s bleak headlines be an indication that we know intuitively how our humanity is intertwined, and that we are all being drawn to a more harmonious and hopeful future?
Might our reaction and what it suggests be akin to astronomy’s ability to detect the existence of large bodies in space — not because they have seen them with their telescopes or cameras, but because they can measure scientifically the gravitational effect these yet-to-be-seen bodies clearly have on the planets and stars they are able to see? In other words, they know of them only indirectly.
In the midst of the ominous news of the day there remains a trajectory toward wholeness and life which invites our hopeful advocacy and sacrificial solidarity. The new day reveals itself slowly, imperceptibly, anonymously. Not by rockets’ red glare or bombs bursting in air, but through patient, persistent prayers which over time become personal and political and potent.