If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal. We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. We know that we are God's children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:16-19, NRSV).
Children became very “important” in the past 30 years…Children became sort of “luxury items” for people, so it became very important—“MY child is an HONORARY so-and so…” When children became really important as “luxury items,” the parents decided, “let’s make the world ‘baby-safe’ because I don’t want my kid to hit their head on any of these sharp edges. Well, I’m sorry 'Madam, 'but this world is full of [expl.] sharp edges, and the way that we have agreed to set up this world is that you learn by bumping your head up against sharp objects…You cannot make the world ‘baby-safe.’ You can try to, but is it safe for your kid to go out and not know that there are sharp edges, and learn how to process this information? Learn how to work it out? (RuPaul, “Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler” podcast #57).
1 John makes ample use of the metaphor of Christians as "children of God." Much of 1 John warns the “children” about sources of danger in a depraved world, yet offers assurance that no harm shall befall them. Lesson Seven reflects on the concept of childhood, as a metaphor and as lived experience, in antiquity and today. A bevy of images come to mind, I'm sure, as we reflect on our own childhoods, or when we consider the children that fill our lives as sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grand- and great-grandchildren, students... There is little doubt, however, that after December 14th, 2012, our casual musings on the lives of children have taken a poignant, somber, and sorrowful turn in light of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary that took the lives of 26 innocents. These are not the only individuals to have been snatched from life so horrifically by gun violence, to be sure. Their deaths, however, are the ones that have so vividly and so widely captured the attention of people worldwide, and sparked spirited national discussion in the U.S. in particular. There are _new_ laments, new tears, and new testimonies circulating; I am curious as to how the sounds of these voices resonate with, or add new dimensions of "sound," to old testimonies and ancient truths. Where IS the power of the Spirit in the midst of atrocity? How does Christ’s (the Son of God's) broken body serve as a bridge, if at all, to the broken bodies of children slain with such reckless abandon? As our senses of perspective and equilibrium have been so disrupted by this un-natural disaster, how do we come to understand where, in our surroundings, "truth" resides, and in what values we might find shelter and safety? Do the words “truth” and “safety” even belong in the same sentence together, or are they too separate and estranged as categories to reconcile?
1 John's author writes the following in the fifth chapter of his letter on the validity of the truth-claims made on behalf of Christ in reconciling humankind to God:
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree (1 John 5:6-8).
In this passage, we recognize the symbols of baptism, the gripping horror of the crucifixion, and the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit. Water, blood, the Word made flesh; both the carnal, material world and the divine Spirit intersect, testifying to a deep spiritual truth: God intends eternal, abundant life for all. Christians claim the redemptive power of this intersection in the figure of Jesus Christ—the beauty of a life lived in full integrity, the horror of the cross, mixed with glorious promise of eternal life overcoming death—the death of an innocent, at that. God’s Child bore the extremes of human violence in his body, which was broken for (by) us.
Water continues to testify on our behalf, through the tears of the loved ones who lose children to wanton violence. Our own eyesight is often clouded by the streams of tears we cry in empathy. Ironically, it is our ability to hide behind these tears, at times, that blinds us to some deeper, harder truths. The bold grief that led Veronique Pozner to make a startling decision about the final, public presence of her slain little boy, Noah, challenges us to clear our eyes and collect our tears. When faced with the decision of how to present Noah’s body prior to his memorial service, she chose for his casket to be open, which revealed not only the tender innocence of his long eyelashes resting gently on cheeks as if fast asleep, but also the gruesome atrocity that, just below those cheeks, under a blanket, was the empty space where his jaw had been. In his final moments, the world proved a dangerous place for Noah and his classmates. The gut-wrenching reality of this danger is one that Mrs. Pozner sought to convey to the world through her decision, making it impossible for us to hide behind walls of fantasy and pretense. Blood had been spilled, and bodies broken. What remained of Noah testified to this, and to the grotesque extent to which human violence rips bodies, and communities, apart. It is in these vignettes that we come to understand the nature of “mortal” sin, in all its unspeakable depravity.
As we ponder the culture of violence that contributed to Noah’s body being broken by “us” (with the shooter as a stand-in for all that is broken within the human condition), may we work together, as God’s children, to build a world in which our children stumble upon fewer of its rough edges, dark places, and hidden atrocities. Perhaps the best places for us to start this work is within ourselves.