Bridging the Divide Between Tragedy and Grace

Print More

Online Vigil Image C/O

The tragic events Friday in Connecticut bring with them a panoply of emotions; everything from grief to anger to fear to shock. As humans we want to understand and we often think that means dissecting the life of the shooter to either find some shred of humanity and some emotional resonance so that we can relate in some small way or find something defective in his chemical makeup that makes him so far from us that we don’t have to imagine someone like him sitting on our continuum of humanity.
But horrors don’t have a logical origin point; there is no way to make it make sense. The topography of our human landscape is altered by these tectonic rumble. We can repair and heal but we will always remember the rumble.

Mending Broken
It is a hard and simple truth that sometimes bad things happen, sometimes terrible things, and too often they happen to good human beings who don’t deserve it in any way. I just finished writing a book called Mending Broken which tells my personal journey through the stages of trauma, PTSD, and recovery and which discusses the nature of trauma as it impacts the individual system of body, mind, and spirit.
As a collective body of humanity we are still shuddering from the shock of this quake. The most horrific and unfathomable part of this massacre was the pure innocence of the victims it claimed and the many more innocent who were impacted, imprinted on, for life by the brutality.
How do humans reconcile this ache, how do people of faith reconcile this existential horror? It is hard to parcel out meaning so close to something like this.
The Existential Struggle: Search for Meaning
The truth of tragedy is that there is no grace in the horror itself but only in our humanity in the face of the horrific. Victor Frankl, author ofMan’s Search For Meaning, survivor of Auschwitz, and founder of Logotherapy (one of the forefathers of existential psychology) is someone I constantly return to and reference when I try to grasp grace in atrocities and his book was one of the many road-maps I found on my own journey out of PTSD as well as trying to help others as a trauma therapist and 20’s and 30’s ministry leader.
Victor Frankl struggled to find his own healing out of the pain of surviving the holocaust. What he kept returning to, and what led to his founding of Logotherapy, is and existential response to an essential existential question: how can I live in a world and believe in a God who would allow these things to happen to me or someone I love or someone inherently good?
How do we retain faith in a world where bad things happen to good people?
Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, said:

The truth…love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still knows bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved (pp.37).

He believed and knew the ultimate truth only found when the world strips away all we have known of human love, the answer to the existential question of pain. When we have nothing left to cling to in ourselves, when we are broken by the acts of the world, it is a fracture so excruciating it can only be repaired in and with God. When we are stripped of answers and meaning at the level of this world the only truth (as e.e. cummings says: the root of the root and the bud f the bud of the tree called life) is God. Love that never ends and that is eternity’s embrace; love of, and in, and with the beloved that transcends this world and its horrors.
At The Bottom of Will
As Victor Frankl says, in this space we can touch grace, if only for a moment; and this deep mystical knowing of God only comes for a moment at a time and only comes when we have reached the bottom of our own will. The only will we have left is the will to let go, and as the 12-step model tells us, let God.
There is no way to rationalize the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut with our rational human minds. We can dissect every inch of the shooter’s brain and life and pain for either a shred of humanity or a lack of it but it will never satisfy; it will never fill that space or mend broken.
All we can do is take that pain, brokenness, anger, or grief and give it up to God because the whole is too big for anything in this world to fill. Bad things happen to good people and in the case of places like Newtown, sometimes unimaginably horrific things happen to too many people who don’t deserve it.
There is no logic or will big enough to fill that kind if a communal and collective darkness; it is a volcano of ache. The only thing we can do is give it up to God and ask him to share our pain so we can carry it until we can find the time and place and grace to heal from it.
But we will always be changed from the breaking. We can mend but we will always be changed from the breaking.
**My prayers and thoughts go out to all that suffer this week and in the weeks ahead in Newtown and all those touched by the pain of this human tragedy. The trauma therapist in me wishes I could be of some help with the healing; the trauma survivor in me knows that healing takes time; the mystic in me will continue to pray, let go, and let God.**