But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. -Isaiah 53:5 (NRSV)
Just one week ago, I wrote about death and grief. I didn’t think I would be doing it again so quickly. Yet, on August 26, 2015, people across the nation bore witness to the heinous murder of a reporter and videographer, caught on live television. The deaths of Alison Parker and Adam Ward were not only the latest in America’s struggle with gun violence for me. I knew Alison. We were both raised in Martinsville, Virginia, and I had the good fortune of knowing Alison as a fellow student of the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science, and Technology during my senior/her junior year of high school. Though we had become more distant since graduating from college, I have long considered her a dear friend. This loss is one from which I will not soon recover.
And in light of her tragic death, I find myself contemplating the question common to many grievers: Where is God? How could something so tragic happen to someone so innocent, full of so much potential? Where is that loving God I seek in my despair? God, where are you?
I find myself caught between two perspectives: one as the chaplain who counsels others through grief and knows the answer to the question, the other as the griever who cannot find consolation no matter what words are offered.
Since Alison and Adam’s deaths, I have thought about Isaiah 53:5. This is a well-known verse across the Christian tradition. I do not want to discount its Jewish roots, and I do believe it is important to place this verse in its own Jewish context. However, I also recognize that Christians have long used this verse as a summation of how they think about Christ’s purpose on earth: “by his bruises we are healed.”
And yet I reflect on the function of those bruises in a new way this week. Sure, on the one hand, many Christians have identified this as a model of substitutionary atonement. But this week, as I grieve with the families and other friends of Alison and Adam, as well as the communities of Roanoke and Martinsville and the rest of the nation, I see Christ’s bruises as a model for healing in the here and now, not just as a down payment toward the grand scheme of eternity.
Christ’s bruises are but a small reflection of the larger act Christ has done. The greater message those bruises tell is that Christ suffers with us. In a Christian context, “by his bruises we are healed” does not only have to be a reference to Christ’s atonement of sin, for we are also healed through assurance that we never suffer alone. We can rest in knowing that as we cry, as we suffer, as we feel emptiness, God too feels our anguish. Christ has suffered for us and continues to suffer with us. God understands human pain and suffering because Christ has become fully human.
It is no wonder that the resurrected Christ is described in the Book of John as still having the wounds of his beating (John 20:27). The resurrected Christ continued to carry with him the sufferings of humanity. In those bruises exists the pain of those who cry out for God.
As we call out in despair for a broken country, broken communities, and broken families, we can cling to Christ’s bruises. Those bruises forever hurt alongside us.
The answer to the question, “Where is God,” is simply this: God is right here.