Friday, December 14, 2012

A note for the watchman: Sandy Hook and Dallas

Sandy Hook has once again exposed the awful, unavoidable vulnerability each day of our human life brings with it. No matter how hard and honestly we may try to make our systems work, they'll always be inadequate to protect us from all that we'd wish to be protected from. We'll never identify every cause, detect every threat, understand every contingency, remove every danger. All the more important to remind ourselves, every day, of the wisdom of Psalm 127:

...except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

It has always unsettled me that that bit of Scripture was the last sentence of the speech President Kennedy was on his way to give on November 22, 1963.

For scientists of a certain aggressively materialist bent, it's common to remark on how God's influence is increasingly relegated to the ever-shrinking "gaps" in our scientific knowledge, which those scientists confidently expect to disappear someday. But in the infinitely more complex region of human affairs, we don't have a temporary "God of the gaps;" we have a permanent "God of the abyss," a God whose constant love for us is all that can ever stand between us and the black gulf of chaotic chance that's so densely populated with hungry catastrophes.

Sleeping or waking, we hear not the airy footsteps of the strange things that almost happen.

Prayer, then, isn't something to keep us from doing our best to guard against evil with the tools we have at hand. Rather, it's the most practical thing to do precisely when we've done all that we can think of to do, because for all our efforts, all our cleverness, all our technical brilliance, the abyss is still there, full of unknowables, still just a step or two off the little ledge of knowledge we've carved out. It makes perfect sense, then, to cry out for help to the One who alone comprehends all the perils we walk beside each day.

Because crouching in a window above a Texas street in 1963, and outside a Massachusetts schoolhouse in 2012, and in a thousand other places down the ages to come, the vultures will always be waiting -- until the last trumpet sounds, and the world is healed.