Asking the Hard Questions

To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident. I observe regretfully that in politics, however, it can be heresy. It can be denounced as radicalism, or branded as subversion. There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.

—Robert F. Kennedy

One of the great powers of the church, one we don’t use often enough, is the power to question. Throughout history, beginning with the founder himself, Christians have looked upon the world and asked why it doesn’t measure up to God’s snuff. Great and terrible things have resulted: new means of bringing compassion into the world and new reasons to have to bring the compassion, hospitals and crusades, feeding for the poor and genocide.

When the church can no longer ask whether things are as they ought to be, it loses all strength. It can no longer even crawl into the comforts of the past. There is no comfort, no security, in pulling the covers up over one’s head and pretending the grown-up monsters are no longer there. The desire to turn away from the weights and ragged edges of life is understandable, but it is a lie, not the gospel.

This all has to be understood in light of another school shooting, of course. This time it was in Santa Fe, Texas—the 16th or 22nd or 34th in 2018, depending on how you count. Anybody with a mostly-regular pulse and functioning brainwaves is fearful and mistrusting, and with good reason. The USA’s long national experiment in killing its youth continues.

It seems to me that perhaps the simplest, most powerful witness Christians could offer in this reality would be to the ask basic questions. Not just “Why?” or even “Why again?” but “How long?” and “What will it take?” (Spoiler: it won’t be easy, and then it won’t be easy some more.) Some churches won’t want to do that, of course. They will carefully bound off the real terror, the real death, as “too political.” Or they will declare it a painful reality they mean to escape on a Sunday morning, in favor of a positive message about Jesus.

There’s no use in shaming or judging such assemblies. I wouldn’t, even if I were in a position to do so. Some hearts can bear more than others. As for myself, I believe in the gospel tradition and the Gospel tradition. As suggested in last Sunday’s word for the week, Jesus blesses his disciples with the promise that God always has more to say, about the possibility of new life and the divine love for humanity, in particular. Gospel music offers other good news: the comfort of emotional release of worldly sins and burdens—providing, of course, that they’re acknowledged upfront. We’ll talk more about that in the show on June 3rd.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this simple encouragement. Bobby Kennedy was right: the past was never as comfortable as imagined, and the future, as terrifying as it might be, is always arriving on our doorstep. We have no reason not to ask questions today, and every reason to listen for God’s latest word.

What’s the worst that could happen? The future might turn out to be different from the present?