My church is in the London borough where a tower block housing many of the community’s poorest people went up in flames recently. It happened so quickly that dozens lost their lives.
When I heard the breaking news that night, I just couldn’t find a sense of peace. The need for comfort and healing for all was so great and the images I’d seen on TV were so vivid.
The next day, I was grateful for more hopeful images. A stranger caught a baby thrown out of a window; residents woke their neighbors before getting out themselves – notably many Muslim residents who were alert and awake waiting for their last meal before beginning their Ramadan fast again; emergency service workers did extraordinary work; and the community stepped in with great kindness, handing out clothing and food, collecting money for the victims, and offering places to stay.
Alongside this have come angry scenes and demonstrations as residents seek answers about who is responsible, but a book called “Anger and Forgiveness,” by American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, pinpoints the difference between a reaction to catastrophe that demands retribution and one that will lead to future change. It shows how it’s the latter that helps people resolve their emotions in such troubling times. The author also explains how valuable forgiveness can be in the face of such catastrophic events, concluding that a forgiveness impelled by love, rather than one that demands penitence of others, leads to resolution and a better future. She acknowledges that this kind of unconditional forgiveness is found in some Jewish and Christian texts.
Someone who dearly loved and practiced the idea of unconditional forgiveness, Mary Baker Eddy – the Discoverer of Christian Science and founder of the Monitor – showed that as we express a divinely inspired generosity of spirit to others, then hope, resolution, and healing is the result. She wrote: “Communing heart with heart, mind with mind, soul with soul, wherein and whereby we are looking heavenward ... makes healing the sick and reforming the sinner a mutual aid society, which is effective here and now” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” pp. 154-155).
Such heavenward-looking communing is to glimpse beyond even the most tragic discords in life and to grasp something of a diviner reality. The Scriptures illustrate many examples of the triumph of good over evil on this basis. So in my own search for solace, I randomly opened my Bible. The page fell open to this verse in the book of Joel: “The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem ... the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel” (3:16).
I was encouraged by the part about hope and strength, but the only “roar” I could see in my mind’s eye was the roaring of the flames and the desperate cries of suffering and loss. Yet as I considered this passage more deeply, I came to see that divine Love is indeed “roaring” a message of hope and comfort. This divine message is telling us that we are the spiritual sons and daughters of the Divine, and that our Father-Mother, God, who is the eternal, spiritual Life of us all – including those who have passed from sight in such tragic circumstances – loves and cares for us unconditionally.
Every one of us can open our hearts to this divine Parent’s care. In seeing that this was so, I finally found a sense of peace. I saw that we can trust our prayers for our community to open the door for ourselves and others to see the healing and reforming power of this divine Love taking shape in tangible ways.