“It makes you question your faith almost,” said Koteiba Azzam, who is Muslim, in response to the death of his friend Andre Anchondo in the mall shooting in El Paso, Texas, a few days ago. He added, “But God didn’t have a part in it.”
It can be hard to understand why awful things happen. But the idea that Mr. Azzam has shared is also a message that comes to me as I pray about the weekend’s tragic shootings in the United States. They had nothing to do with God, who is divine Love itself and therefore could never be the cause of evil in our experiences.
On the contrary, we each have a God-given capacity to seek a different, spiritual perspective of what’s going on and feel and experience the infinite love of the Divine, even when hate and tragedy loom large.
So much of human progress depends on where we turn for our understanding of unfolding events. Are we listening to and for the voice of hate, for example, or the voice of divine Love, which speaks to all?
In this respect, I’ve found Jesus’ teachings to be a profoundly helpful and hope-bringing guide. Christ Jesus’ life wasn’t insulated from violence, but he showed his followers how to practice love toward those who opposed them. He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Even after he had been crucified, that message didn’t change. His resurrection proved the power of the spiritual love he taught. And it’s a message for all time and for people of all religious and cultural backgrounds.
In a discussion of Jesus’ resurrection in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, explains, “Love must triumph over hate” (p. 43). The Love this is speaking of is God, and this supremely powerful divine Love is the true antidote to evil and hate.
That doesn’t mean passively waiting for God to do something, without playing our part. We need to actively understand and express God’s love. In practical terms, that means we need to reject hateful thoughts about those who are different from us politically, culturally, or religiously, and even about those who commit violent acts.
More than that, it means we are fully equipped to do so! Love for one another – for all others – is our heritage as God’s children, the spiritual expression of Deity’s endless love. We don’t have to resign to hateful thoughts as “just one of those things” we need to accept. God’s purpose for all of us is freedom, peace, joy.
Jesus communicated with a broad cross section of society from prostitutes and shady businessmen to religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees. He recognized that all have worth, although not all of them lived up to the spiritual heritage of goodness and love that was actually theirs.
Through his ministry, many became aware – even if just dimly – that there was a higher sense of life than what they had known, and that no one is too far removed from that true Life, God, to find their way back to the awareness and expression of it.
This message of our never-ending unity with Love has been tested many times. One example is Saul, a religious zealot who harassed and killed early followers of Jesus. It may have seemed impossible that his character would change for the better. But then Saul glimpsed the Christ, God’s message of love for all, and for the rest of his life he was a powerful voice of the universal peace and love God gives.
It’s not always easy to yield to divine Love instead of hate, especially in the wake of tragic events. But it is natural for us to hold to the spiritual reality that divine Love’s purpose for us is to love one another. Love is not fulfilled by violence of any kind. Intelligent, loving actions, however, can defuse violent tendencies and bring more peace and safety to light.
Each of us can take a stand on the side of divine Love – to pray that humanity sees and feels the unifying power of God and to let God’s love, not hate, lead us forward.