I spent last Saturday evening at a local funeral home. I was there conducting a funeral for a woman who had died after a short battle with cancer. We had prayed and fought hard to keep the cancer from winning. She was only fifty-four. The building was thick with family and friends, with grief, and with memories.
The woman was much beloved. She was also one of those genuinely gracious, loving people who just seemed to know that she was put on this earth to love people. All of the stories I heard, and knew, were about someone who reached out in grace, love and acceptance. Someone spoke at the service about her 'moral compass.' I remember hearing that and thinking, 'yes, and her moral compass was mercy.' I thought, the world needs more, not fewer, people like her.
The verses that came to my mind as I prepared for the funeral were from 1st John: "Beloved, let us love one another, for everyone who loves is born of God and loves God..... God is love." But even as I said these words, and looked out over the people gathered, I could hear the questions, unanswered questions, "If God is love, why....?"
Why? Why do tragic things like this happen? Why does cancer take the life of a person who adds so much goodness and mercy to the world? I could feel all the whys staring me in the face, and felt that my words were not enough.
Sometimes, the right answer is, "I don't know. I don't know why."
As the pastor there, I felt the temptation to have an answer. I am supposed to be wise, after all. But I only knew what not to say: this is not a punishment for anything. She did all the right things. And God did not take her because God needed an angel.
I don't know why.
But that doesn't mean I have nothing to say. Even though I don't know why, even though I don't know the meaning of her death, I do know the meaning of her life: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." Even though I don't know why, I do know this, by faith: That God was with her, and is with her, did not abandon her in her suffering. It is the witness of Jesus that convinces me: Jesus who did not abandon the world, did not turn his back on his disciples even when they turned their backs on him. I also believe that the deep yearning we have for a world where there is no death, no tears, no violence, where peace reigns -- is God's yearning, too. Somehow, deep in the seen and unseen places of the world, God is working to make that yearning come true. And we are meant to be partners with God in that. That is a faith statement, I know, and open to contradiction.
So, I don't know why this good woman died, or why God allows violence to happen, not only in Boston, or in all the other God-beloved corners of the world.
But I believe this: That we are meant to be partners with God in loving the world. That is our vocation, in a world where beautiful and terrible things happen, and we don't know why.