Text: Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Yesterday I cried. I cried for my friends, I cried for children who lost their mother, I cried for grandparents whose loss seems compounding, I cried for a sense of the tragic that seems unrelenting. I cried at the funeral service for Kelly Gissendaner. I tried to analyze the sadness and anger I felt. I did not know Kelly at all. I was one person removed through relationships to her. I did however know people whose life had been changed by this unlikely person. Through those relationships I got to know others who knew Kelly, taught her theology and prayed with her.
If it was not for the direct friendship with the victim of state sanctioned killing, what made me sad? I think it is because of the utter waste that culminated on the night that Kelly was executed outside of Jackson, Georgia. It was not that she was the only person to ever be executed at this facility, or that she even represented all the different types of cases that cycle through a criminal justice system in the United States of America. It was because in the final analysis there was no redemption or any redeeming value from a very broken system. In my final conclusion I found nothing at all but complete tragedy.
Tragedy is when there is unrelieved suffering, destruction and distress. As resurrection people we put our hope in rising from the ashes in the face of death’s sting. Yet, in the concrete nature of our hope there is the real, existential sense of the tragic that can cement our feet to the actuality of our daily lives. We should resist the attempt for a quick plunge into the songs of the hereafter and trite explanations for comfort. We are called to people of the question as much as people of comfort. There is a time for comfort and then again there is a time for anger and lament. There is a time for fist shaking toward the church, toward power and even toward God. Kelly’s death in reality is the penultimate affirmation of human shortcomings, finite reach and sin.
Kelly reminded me that sometimes life is not fair and that is not okay. I don’t need to merely resign myself to an impulse for resignation in the fate of inevitability. I have the ability to cry, complain, petition, curse, scream, fight and rage. Faith is not a region for niceness or kindly smiley faces. It is the gritty, abrasive and painful facing of reality. In facing reality we are not to surrender passively. Faith is an opposite action to nihilism, apathy, or inactivity. We do not go gently into that good night. It is the birthright of faith to go to the garden of Gethsemane, to cry from the cross we bear and cry shaking as our family is taken off into Babylonian captivity.
Here is where we leave behind those who want the church to be a superficial facade for pat answers, shallow faith for feel good spirituality or a source for prosperity. We know that just as Jesus cried, we must cry. Just as Jesus felt rejected by God, we will also feel rejected by God. Just as Jesus would cry out in bewilderment, we will also share that bewilderment. Just like the Psalmist we will cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?!” Like Job in the midst of his despair we will cry out in confusion, “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!
Why are we able to cry, scream and rage to/at God? It is because we are not given a faith that shelters us from life. Life and more abundant life is filled with suffering. Suffering is a vapid, cavernous emptiness that may eventually lead to hope, but in it’s midst it is despair.
Cancer, death, arthritis, corporate pollution, homelessness, mass incarceration, senility, starvation, poverty, drought, hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, greed or corruption are the tragic which we unreasonably expect positive resolution. We expect justice because it is our promise, a divine promise for the world. If we do not struggle with the divine we are missing an incredibly important component to faith.
The ache, that burning anger in the midst of injustice is actually our prayer. It is a prayer in knowing that our conscience is not so hardened that we have a robot like acceptance to supposed “authority,” whether it be a politician, judge, pastor or hoarder of wealth. It is because we know that our authority comes from something much more divine, something that dreams that every injustice is thrown out of the temples of our life with Christ’s whip. When we truly meet that Christ we know we can no longer accept the injustices of this world, we can no long sit in silence even if it seems the divine is silent. It is our spiritual duty to agitate, complain, raise our voice all the way to the divine to bring about justice, mercy, grace, love and peace to this broken world. It will stretch us, pull us, and break our heart in ways so that we will have an authentic faith.
Kelly should never have died God! Nothing positive could be accomplished by her death. So, I am angry at the State of Georgia. I am angry with the bureaucrats who see their job in the supposed justice system as merely checking boxes. I am angry at a church that buttresses up the death penalty and is mostly silent in its action. I am angry at you that so many people petitioned you for this woman and you were silent in the end. Accept my angry prayer because I know I have no lawyer big enough to argue our cause against the divine. I know that even in the depth of my despair, you are there.