A tragedy beyond our comprehension. Seven children, Abdullah, Rana, Hala, Ghala, Mohammed, Rola and Ahmed Barho, gone forever. Their parents shattered, a community devastated and a country in shock.
This is a time for us to gather together and, in our case, do what we do best. Pray. We cannot fix this. We cannot take away the pain, what we can do is support each other. We can care for one another. Love each other.
Each of us is connected to the Barho children in some way… for some it may be through your own children… for some it may be through fundraising efforts to bring the family here… for some it may be active involvement in the Heart Society… for some it might be through the school system… And for some the connection might simply be through our shared humanity.
We at Riverview have a special connection. They lived in the house next door until recently. The parents came for English classes with Kim Horne most mornings. I watched the younger children learn to ride their bikes through my office window. And I marveled at their resilience… to see their lively faces filled with joy and mischief…
Their tragic death underscores or highlights one of life’s age-old questions: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Some people may think God lets these things happen… as if God was some sort of puppet controlling everything on earth. Some may think that God is simply indifferent to our suffering, high above all earthly matters and not interfering in any way. Some may think that God allowed the children to die in order to teach us some lesson. None of those images fit a loving God… The reality is, is that we live in a very imperfect world… a world in which very painful things can and do happen.
What I believe, is that God didn’t cause those children to die and neither do I believe that God is indifferent to it. What I believe is that God is with us… Jesus is Emmanuel… which simply means God with us. God is with us in our shock and pain and grief that is multiplied a hundredfold for the parents.
Our scriptures, both Hebrew and New Testament tell us that.
Listen to beautiful word from Psalm 139:
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.
And Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing, not death, not grief, not suffering, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
You may find that the Barho children’s death brings back memories and reminders of other deaths and that you are grieving those all over again…That is normal and natural… grief can be like a well… when you take the lid off the well to put some new grief in… the old grief is there too… mixing and mingling together… Do not feel guilty about feeling your own grief again.
And grief can manifest itself in different ways… both for yourself and your children… through frenetic activity, through retreat into solitude, through anger… Your children may be clingy or distant, they may act out or seem oblivious… they may be afraid that you may die… and they are thinking about it, even if they don’t articulate it…Those behaviours are all normal.
And don’t tell them that nothing is going to happen to you… because your children are smart enough to know that bad things happen, that people die. What you can do is reassure them that you love them and that you won’t willingly leave them… And that there will be people who will continue to love them and look after them if something does happen. Don’t be afraid to show them your own shock and grief… be honest with them… grief and tears are normal and natural when someone dies.
Draw strength and comfort from one and another and also from God, who promises to always be with us. Death reminds us that we are mortal… that we really only have the present, this day, this minute. Be kind and gentle with yourselves and with each other, tell your children you love them, call your parents, make love with your husband or wife… reach out to someone who is hurting, God, Emanuel, is there in all those encounters… tears, laughter, ecstasy, comfort and pain.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
February 24, 2019