Explosions in Brussels killed 34 people, injured over 200, and the news was very sad and very disturbing, but it wasn’t shocking this time. It’s terrible, and it calls us to prayer and it makes us want to offer support and love and comfort, and it may make us angry at how the forces of destruction continue to attack so viciously — but it’s not shocking, and we are pretty much resigned to the idea that it will happen again, somewhere.
May their memory be eternal, and may God comfort Brussels and send them peace.
We live in a world where terrorists bomb airports and marketplaces, tearing people limb from limb, calculating how they’ll shed as much blood as possible. In this world of horror and pain, we so desperately need the God who storms Hades and tramples down death by death, who reaches out to us in our suffering and brings us to life.
We need God so much, and yet — often, tragedies like this push people farther from God. They ask, where was God when the bombs exploded? They may angrily imagine God comfortable in His heavenly abode, unconcerned with the pain and suffering down below. When they reject that God whose love is so cold and distant and useless, I get it: I reject that God too.
God is real, and He is who He is — and yet, we each have our own understanding of God, and sometimes the God we imagine is not at all who He really is.
It makes me think about this quote from Rabbi Heschel:
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”
― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
Religion, and religious people, have a responsibility to offer a living faith, a true witness to the real God — not a flat, false witness. Perhaps that failure of religious people, of us, is what is killing religion. If we witness to a cold God who sits in the sky oblivious to human suffering, then we’re the ones who put that image in their heads — and that’s why when the bombs go off and the carnage is everywhere, they say that they don’t really need God. It’s not God they’re rejecting; it’s our false, useless witness of God.
Rabbi Heschel is, of course, focused on Judaism, but these words are relevant to all religion in the modern era. I find that as an Orthodox Christian, certain words really resonate: “when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain”… Don’t we Orthodox celebrate the splendor of the past and inherit this faith from our fathers, to pass along to future generations? Whether we tell our children that they are Orthodox because the generations before them were always Orthodox, or whether we are converts who romanticize Old Russia and Constantinople, we must not handle the faith like an heirloom. Why not? What’s wrong with an heirloom?
It belongs to another time.
Our God is real, and He is right here in the present. He is in Brussels, and at work in Ankara, He tends to the wounded in Iraq and on the Ivory Coast and is holding the victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria, right now. He is not a relic of a dusty Byzantine tale, a God who stopped saving cities centuries ago or who works only on a faraway holy mountain.
God is at work now. He is alive now. Is our faith in Him a living faith, or a beloved relic we keep in the drawer for posterity?
We cannot give our children what we do not have; we must first have a living faith ourselves in order to pass it along to our children — although of course, if we are lucky, God may send them their own before we ever develop ours.
Here we are, setting out into Great Lent, and watching terrorists murder more innocents. What are we called to do now, right now, at this moment?
We’re called to do the same thing we are always called to do, and so especially during Lent: to love one another as Christ has loved us. Sacrificially, actively, now.
So let us hear this call and gather our strength. It’s Great Lent. We are called to fast and to pray and to give alms.
Let’s fast, which helps us to free our hearts so that we can receive God — we must experience this living God if we are to witness to Him.
And let us pray — for the victims of terrorism and for those caught up in the evil of ISIS and for all of this fallen world, and for a living faith befitting our living God.
Let us not neglect to give alms. Send money to the IOCC so that they can put it to work on the ground among the wounded and the displaced. But that’s not all we mean by charity. There’s a more important almsgiving for you to be doing — and that is acting in your neighborhood, right in the place where you are now. Give alms personally, and with the kind of self-emptying and merciful love that Jesus showed on the cross. Send the IOCC a check for the money you saved at the grocery store on meat and cheese, but then go ahead and buy that cheeseburger you were craving, and give it to someone else. Better yet, invite them to sit down with you and then listen to whatever they feel like telling you, feeding their body and treating them like they were made in God’s image.
Take your kids to a nursing home and let them sit and hear old stories or learn to endure awkward silences without rushing to a device for entertainment. Let them offer love, so that they can feel Christ’s love working in them, so that they know that love is real and that God is alive in the moment, right now.
Christ is right now despoiling Hades, trampling down death by death, reviving us, resurrecting us, healing the wounded and feeding the hungry. He is doing all of that right now. What are we doing? If we join Him in His work (right here, right now, wherever we are) then we are His hands and His feet and we become a witness to His present-day action in the world.
The world needs this, we need this and our children need this. They need to see faith in action, faith that is alive and real. Our children need to drink from a living fountain. Nothing else will do.