How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?
The capitalization on the personal pronoun “he” is telling enough, but these questions must have sprung into the minds of Christians across the nation after the shooting in Connecticut. At least, I hope they did.
Here is O’Neil:
One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.
So, let me get this straight. God is experienced in family and community. Yet God isn’t actually experienced as God himself in reality? God is somehow made real through family and friends? I don’t get that. Family and friends, according to Christian dogma, are subject to original sin, and even Christians can sin — a well-documented point — so I doubt that, theologically, family and friends can take the place of Yahweh himself. But O’Neil admits it. He admits that family and friends were the “presence of God” to him and believers, so my question is: Is he also admitting, implicitly, that God isn’t actually real and that he’s really only a type of positive energy associated with fellowship?
O’Neil then concedes this point:
We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.
So, people’s relations with one another determines whether God actually bestows his “comfort” on people who are dying? What strange theology is this?
The ending is the best part:
I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.
So this “presence” performs all these indispensable tasks, yet when the water hits the wheel, we still need family and friend to carry us through the hard times. Funny how that works.