Gun Violence and the Search for God

Edward J. Blum

Editor's note: a longer version of this reflection below has been posted here at the Huffington Post.

In Christopher Nolan's epic The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger (as the Joker) explains that the problem is "the plan" and those who try to have one. There is no plan, the Joker mocks Batman, and anyone who wants to create or enforce one will invariably find it unplanned by someone like the Joker. I've been thinking a lot about the notion of "God's plans" while reading on faith and experience during the Civil War. As George Rable has so nicely argued, it seemed that everyone then believed that God "had a plan." Providential views of the world dominated their thinking, white and black, Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, male and female.

And then violence happens ("the war came").. Thousands slaughtered. Today, young men rattle bullets into movie-theater crowds and at school children. Drones drop death from above. Angry male college students e-shout that they will "shoot in the face" minority activists for promoting the wearing of pants to church. As the media races off to present the latest stories, as gun control debates carry the moment, as the president quotes Psalms, and as the gun lobby hunkers down, we'll deal with that perennial religious question that pervades our lived experiences and our pop cultures: what's the plan, God?

El Cajon, CA
Throughout American history so many have tried to make sense of God's alleged presence amid terrible situations. Tecumseh wondered how whites could possibly think fellow Native Americans could believe in their God, when it appeared that they (the whites) killed him. During the age of lynching, some African Americans felt like they knew what it meant to be crucified, even as William Jennings Bryan used that language as political rhetoric. W. E. B. Du Bois and his family endured racial insults at the funeral of their young son, and he could only write, again, "I hate them, I hate them, O Christ." Today is neither the first, nor the last day which the relationships among violence, death, and the sacred will be with us.

On a personal note, although my experience of the loss of a child is radically different from what has happened in Connecticut, I can say that texts and emails that read "sigh" or "no words" were deeply meaningful and I remember them fondly today. When others, in their efforts to console us, said things like "God has a plan" or "your little one is now an angel" ... let me simply say that in order to remain in relationship with those individuals, I feel like I have to vomit those words out spiritually. Mourning can be done without words or sacred interpretations.


Curtis J Evans said…
Thanks, Ed. Interesting reflections, especially on the day of this awful tragedy that can only make one weep. Your concluding remarks remind me of Nicholas Wolterstorff's moving words in his book, "Lament for a Son."
Mark T. Edwards said…
Thanks for these reflections, Ed.

I'm reading through Sean Scott's A VISITATION OF GOD, an incisive on the ground study of Civil War era providentialism. Scott takes his subjects seriously but doesn't let them off the hook whenever they met savage violence with senseless moralizing--of the sort that has apparently already begun to come out of the Conn. tragedy. Have I heard right that a certain Arkansas preacher-politician has claimed that this is what happens when you take god out of public schools?
Leslie said…
Thank you.

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