When tragedy strikes, when mayhem is reaped, I can understand those who long for God to intervene, to make it stop, to change the course of events, to heal the hurt, to confront the perpetrator, to enforce justice.
But God is silent. And to some, perhaps many, this is the proof of God’s absence. But it is in this silence, I find the presence of God. The silence reveals something deeper, and stronger than any intervention could ever do.
A small helpless baby is being sick all night and will not be comforted. The baby is sick so often there are no longer any fresh cot sheets in the house nor any fresh pyjamas. Her favourite bear she wants for comfort lies wet and smelly waiting for its turn in the washing machine. And her parents take turns to hold and cradle her. The only possible expression of their boundless love for this smelly, screaming bundle is to take her in their arms and not let go, their tears blending silently with hers.
In the intensive care ward the only sound is the mechanical rhythm of the ventilator and the discordant beeps of the bank of monitors. The broken body of the young woman lies too still except for the rising and falling of her chest in response to the sound of the ventilator. Sitting each side of the bed her parents each hold one scarred hand. They smooth it, stroke it and occasionally kiss it. Love holds them there in that room; the only way they can make their love real is by remaining in this vigil of silent holding.
On the road, amidst the mayhem, a man sits cross-legged beside the body of his loved one so suddenly and unexpectedly mown down. There is nothing more he can do for this loved one but just to be there, to remain sitting in the road. His presence, his silent faithfulness, is the only possible expression of his love.
As we struggle and reel in life, as our lives are shattered and our hearts broken, in our bewilderment and confusion, when it feels that the bottom of our world has opened and we are falling, falling, and have no idea where it will end; in that moment when the sheer impossibility of it all overwhelms us, when we feel lost and utterly alone, even in that moment where all foundations are lost, we are held. No words, no grand gestures; just held – and it is enough.
The solutions and the consequences, God leaves with us; God respects us, and our freedom, too much to take that away from us but crucially God does not let go. Alone and abandoned as we may feel, still we are held – Love does not let go. Love reveals its power not in words or interventions but in its refusal to let go. On the cross Christ trusts not in the possibility of the intervention of legions of angels, but in the truth deep at the heart of creation, that God never let us go – even when we think God has.
In the face of tragedy and mayhem, I am grateful for the silence of God; a silent holding that does not take the pain away, but maybe, just may be will help me take the next step on this unlooked-for journey.