It wasn’t until mid-way through Tuesday morning that I learnt of the sad, sad events in Manchester the night before. In my new property, without Internet, phone line, or mobile phone signal, my wife and I were – for a period – cut off from the world.
In my office the next day I was asked, “Did you hear about Manchester?” The tone of the questions signalled the graveness of the situation. “Not again …” was the first thought that came to my mind.
About a decade ago, I was in a plane somewhere over America, reading in the newspaper about a recent shooting at a university campus in the country beneath me. I fought tears as the details of the horrific incident were laid out before me.
These piercing moments, seemingly all-too-frequent, ever closer to ‘home’, arrest our emotions and hold our gaze. How? Why? What could have … ? The questions come thick and fast. The media answers what it can, but then they too join us in pondering the vast unknowns.
The response to the Manchester attack was swift. An out-pouring of emotion, a raised threat level across the country, international voices joining our own leaders in condemning the actions and offering support to the victims.
For the many people caught up immediately in this, the entire furore most likely passes around their heads as part of the chaos that is now their norm in their lives for the moment. The loss, the grief, the sadness … the very real shock of it all will be the overriding theme for them. They need comfort and support now, and across the years to come.
For the rest of us, we mourn too but we mourn differently. Our distance perhaps allows us more reflection. Our ‘How?’ questions might be different to those that lose a loved one, and we might be able to think through the answers a bit more.
One of the stages of grief is anger. I’ve been there myself in my own life with my own loss. The anger might spill out in awkward ways, like when the supermarket is out of bananas and your face contorts as your mind contemplates a picket line, a march, and a demand for the CEO to resign.
It is right to feel anger when things go wrong; because, things going wrong quite simply isn’t right.
Now on this issue of right and wrong we have, I think, three positions to take. The first is to say that there is no right and wrong, and therefore, yes we might get upset at things, but we can’t really blame anything/anyone. This is a very hard position to take, for various reasons, and a position that really doesn’t seem to fit with the reality of this week.
The other two options both say that there is such a thing as right and wrong, but differ on what the underlying condition of our world is. Are we basically a good world, with some things that go wrong, or are we basically a bad world, with some things that go right?
Yes, it stretches the mind, and the philosophy can seem remote and detached, yet how we answer the fundamental questions directly affects the way we see the world.
Connected with Reality
The shock of the terrible events in Manchester reached so many people. We never expect these things to happen – even as our emergency services train so hard to prepare just in case – but happen they do. The brute facts of this grim reality cannot be denied or evaded to those that look on.
And so we must choose to look on. We must choose to see the world for what it really is. We must ask whether there is such a thing as right and wrong, whether there is some moral standard that defines these terms. Of course, this brings up more questions – if there is such a thing as right and wrong, where does this come from, and how do we know it? etc. etc.
But to deny the exploration because of the complicated follow-on questions, that Heaven forbid might lead us to a question about the existence of God, is to deny the reality of this world and to cease to be a part of the of the remedy that we so clearly need. It’s those who can see a problem clearly that can present clear, hopeful answers.
I could have chosen to live in my new place without calling BT and having an engineer come out and connect us, but I wouldn’t want that. I wouldn’t want the lack of connection to friends and family this would have brought.
So too, I don’t want to live in a world where I am not brave enough to look at the brute realities we face and ask the difficult questions – no matter where they take me – and connect in with each other, and if so led, to the God who may turn out to be at end of all my questions.