Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church in Boston, recently wrote a reflection for the United Church of Christ’s Still Speaking Daily Devotionals. In it, she addresses the seemingly relentless stream of violence, injustice, racism, and militarism that often leaves us feeling helpless and heartbroken. “As the world erupts in genocide and epidemic, as the smoldering ashes of ancient enmities are fanned into raging flames, and as airplanes fall from the skies, our hearts break,” she writes. “Is there no end or limit to cruelty and the agony of human desperation? Yet, if our human hearts wither at these miseries and hatreds, just imagine how God’s divine heart is faring.”
Christian and Jewish scriptures are filled with examples of a God who weeps with those who mourn, who endures pain along with those who are victims of violence, whose heart breaks with those who feel their spirits breaking day by day. Hosea 11:8c-9 says, “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger… for I am God and no mortal; the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
But Taylor offers encouragement: we are not helpless, not without agency. “It is on us…to keep vigil with and pray for God in this hard hour. Hold God’s broken heart on your heart. Bathe God in prayers of condolence as she weeps for her children who are dead, terrified, hate-filled, grief-wracked and perishing. Wrap God in bands of tender love.”
Taylor writes from a perspective of process theology: that both our actions and our prayers affect God. Process theology denies the following ideas: that God is a cosmic moralist, a divine lawgiver and judge who keeps records of offenses and whose primary concern is the development of moral attitudes; that God is unchanging, passionless and totally independent from creation; that God determines every detail of history in the world; and that obedience to God depends on preserving the status quo (Cobb and Griffin 8-10). Instead God is a dynamic, divine being in the world that is constantly being revealed and understood in partnership with human activity. (Note: this is currently my rudimentary understanding of process theology, which is still growing and about which I am still learning. Much like process theology itself, I imagine.)
There are certainly some theologians and people of faith who would disagree with this understanding of God and how God works in the world. In the spirit of diversity and pluralism, I respect those opinions. However in light of the events in Gaza, at the US-Mexico border, in Nigeria, in Ferguson, Missouri, in Hollywood, in Iraq and Syria…I personally don’t know how else to make sense of it all. Surely this isn’t God’s will or God’s plan: mass slaughtering of religious minorities, systemic racism and militarization of police, the demonizing of innocent children, hopelessness to the point of suicide. Surely God isn’t pulling the strings here. But perhaps God is still at work, in the tears of mothers losing their children, in those who reach across ethnic, religious, and national borders in solidarity, in the restlessness of communities rising up to take a stand.
A few weeks ago, I volunteered at the Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Conference at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Twice a day we gathered for worship. In a huge basketball area filled with thousands of teenagers, the following words rang across the sea of people as we sang together:
For everyone born, a place at the table,
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
For everyone born, a star overhead.
For just and unjust, a place at the table,
Abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
In anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
For just and unjust, a new way to live,
For everyone born, a place at the table,
To live without fear, and simply to be,
To work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
For everyone born, the right to be free,
And the chorus:
And God will delight when we are creators
Of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
Yes, God will delight when we are creators
Of justice, justice and joy!
“God will delight when we are creators of justice.” I can’t help feeling a contrast and a connection between Nancy Taylor’s call to hold God’s broken heart and this song’s call to create justice, much to God’s delight and joy. Indeed, God will weep and mourn and shudder with the acts of injustice and pain that humans inflict on each other, on creation, and on the Creator. But the good news is that with every act of compassion and peace, God delights with love and joy. When people come together with bleary eyes and tired feet but strong conviction and stronger faith in the ultimate goodness of God and humanity, we can be co-creators of a new world where no one needs to live in fear of violence, prejudice and injustice. It may not seem possible, but what other choice do we have?