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Hope Despite Hell

Reading today’s stories from Newtown, listing the names of all the first graders mowed down by Adam Lanza, I find The Onion’s account [1] speaks for me (warning, it’s very profane … but very accurate). But that can’t be the final word. Ross Douthat speaks the deeper truth in his moving column today [2]:

Perhaps, Ivan concedes, there will be some final harmony, in which every tear is wiped away and every human woe is revealed as insignificant against the glories of eternity. But such a reconciliation would be bought at “too high a price.” Even the hope of heaven, he tells his brother, isn’t worth “the tears of that one tortured child.”

It’s telling that Dostoyevsky, himself a Christian, offered no direct theological rebuttal to his character’s speech. The counterpoint to Ivan in “The Brothers Karamazov [3]” is supplied by other characters’ examples of Christian love transcending suffering, not by a rhetorical justification of God’s goodness.

In this, the Russian novelist was being true to the spirit of the New Testament, which likewise seeks to establish God’s goodness through a narrative rather than an argument, a revelation of his solidarity with human struggle rather than a philosophical proof of his benevolence.

In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.

That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Hope Despite Hell"

#1 Comment By pilgrim On December 16, 2012 @ 11:02 am

Yes. One of my thoughts about the comments of this being worse because it came so close to Christmas was–isn’t this what Christmas is really about, on one level? If Christmas can’t meet this, what good is it? These people are who the good news was for. They will see their children again. Hope. Comfort. And God with them, in this.

#2 Comment By Peter H On December 16, 2012 @ 11:08 am

I was doing my best to busy myself yesterday, but partway through clearing snow, I wondered if any writers were going to make the connection between this story and the slaughter of the innocents.

I expect to hear some variation of that from the pulpit this morning.

#3 Comment By Bob Mitchell On December 16, 2012 @ 11:34 am

Eh, I find the Onion’s take on this very cynical. You can’t play look at me I’m so cynical I mock every taboo and then act horrified when something bad happens. Fact is the Onion has done humorous articles on school shooters before, so obviously the Onion doesn’t find the concept of a school shooting off limits.

#4 Comment By Kevin Fogarty On December 16, 2012 @ 11:45 am

Caryl lHouselander points out that the wood of the cradle is the wood of the cross.

#5 Comment By Geoff Guth On December 16, 2012 @ 11:47 am

Back in high school, our principal would occasionally take over a class in order to discuss ethics with us. In the course of one of those ethics discussions, the topic of profanity came up.

He made the point that profane words exist for a purpose, and their strength comes from our reluctance to use them. If you use them every day, they lose their power. And then, when disaster truly hits, what words will you have that are powerful enough to express your feelings?

I think the Onion has nothing to apologize for.

#6 Comment By Noah G. On December 16, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

This is the simpleton’s response maybe, but the only one I would go to if I were given a chance to counsel these people:

I see my religious tradition as offering the parents in Newtown, among other things, a God who is there for them and with them in their suffering. (Maybe that’s in part what Ross is saying). *Literally* there, to provide comfort, among other things, if they can or will accept it/Him.

Personally I don’t know how anyone could go through something like what they’re going through, without God.

So, my response in short: start prayin. ! To Jesus, to St. Pio, to the Blessed Mother, pray pray pray. !!

#7 Comment By Jonathan On December 16, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

I felt the Onion article here – [4] – was accurate…profane…but accurate.

In addition, Douthat’s column echoes David Bentley Hart in his article (and later book) in First Things, Tsunami and Theodicy:

“As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy. It is not a faith that would necessarily satisfy Ivan Karamazov, but neither is it one that his arguments can defeat: for it has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead. We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes—and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'”

#8 Comment By Leapold On December 16, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

The Onion, well, maybe that sort of reaction is part of the problem. If there are children in your life, there’s really more of an urgent task at hand. You don’t have the luxury of saying, “F–k It.” Not ever.

I find this essay, not from anyone nationally famous, just from a blog I read about motherhood, more inspiring: [5]

“So, when a tragedy occurs, we must, as the strong ones, bear up the difficulty and tragedy inside our own hearts, prayers, walk with the Lord and in the comfort of other spiritually mature adults.”

I wouldn’t like to walk with the writers of The Onion just now.

#9 Comment By thehova On December 16, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

While this was going on Friday, I also thought back to that portion of Brothers Karamazov. It honestly shook me to the core when I read it….detailed story after story of inocent children being killed. I almost had to skip it. I bet thousands of others out there also thought back to it last Friday.

Dostoevsky offers no easy answers in Brother Karamazaov (which is different from the redemptive tone of Crime and Punishment). We must seek faith in a world in which we suffer.

#10 Comment By MEH 0910 On December 16, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

Ross Douthat: Maybe the universe really was meant to be a home to humanity, and not just a blindly cruel cosmos in which a 6-year-old’s fate is significant to his parents but no more meaningful in absolute terms than the cracking of a seashell or an extinction of a star.

The universe is a blindly cruel cosmos in which a 6-year-old’s fate is significant to his parents but no more meaningful in absolute terms than the cracking of a seashell or an extinction of a star.

#11 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 16, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

Personally, MEH’s I would say that there’s no one but humans around to voice an opinion on these issues. At least in practical terms there’s no absolute measure of meaning outside of humans. So the comparison of the life of a child to stars and seashells is irrelevant to man.

Tl;dr who cares about hypothetical absolutes.

#12 Comment By MEH 0910 On December 16, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

MH: Tl;dr who cares about hypothetical absolutes.

For one, Ross Douthat, who cares that the universe really was meant to be a home to humanity, and not just a blindly cruel cosmos.

I believe that Turmarion cares about hypothetical absolutes. And that John E_o doesn’t.

#13 Comment By MEH 0910 On December 17, 2012 @ 5:26 am

On 2nd thought, maybe a better way to state it is not that folks like John E_o and myself don’t care about hypothetical absolutes, but have concluded that there is no good evidence for them.

#14 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 17, 2012 @ 8:33 am

MEH, I like your second rephrase better because it fits my squishy noncommittal metaphysics. It also implies that if good evidence became available you would change your opinion.