That evening I arrived home from a run to find my family watching the breaking news about the bombing of the Boston Marathon. I stood dumbstruck at the images that were appearing on the screen. The sight of Jeff Bauman with his feet blown off and several inches of bare bone dangling from his knees where his leg should be is imprinted on my brain. It is hard to comprehend the news that 8 year old Martin Richard was killed, his 7 year old sister Jane lost a leg, and his mother Denise suffered serious brain injuries, as together they waited to watch their father cross the finish line.
26 years ago I ran the London Marathon and relished the atmosphere of fun and celebration. Being a part of thousands of runners, ranging from elite athletes, through club runners to first time runners doing it for a bet or to raise money for charity is a privilege that I thank God for. Just over four hours after the start I crossed the finishing line and received my medal, a mars bar and an aluminium space blanket. Next job was to find my wife and family who had turned out to support me so that we could celebrate my achievement. The Boston runners who were arriving at the finish line would have been sharing a similar sense of elation; joy and relief at completing the run, delight at being reunited with their loved ones, as they looked forward to a shower and post run meal. Instead their world has been shattered by this cowardly atrocity. My 1987 marathon time would have placed me near the finish just as the bomb went off!
Atrocities like this often cause us to wonder as we try and make sense of the events as they unfold. A common response that people have is “where was God in this tragedy?” To give a comprehensive answer to that question would require many more words than I can write here but there are two observations that I hope will help us to draw some comfort at this time.
Firstly the question seems to suggest that God does not care about tragedies like this. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sense of outrage and indignation that we feel is a pale reflection of God’s anger and outrage when men carry out evil attacks like this. The fact that we feel so incensed when events like those we have seen in Boston take place is because human beings have been made in God’s image, and innately we all share God’s sense of right and wrong. God gives humans freedom to make choices, and is grieved when they choose to do evil in much the same way that a parent is grieved when siblings are unkind towards each other. Every person who feels outrage at these events echoes God’s own pain over man’s inhumanity to man.
Secondly stories are coming out of Boston of acts of great kindness and generosity towards victims of the bombing. Whether it is the immediate response of the emergency service personnel on scene at the time, or the householders who provided food and drink, blankets and accommodation to runners left standing in only their running kit, it is in simple acts like this that God demonstrates his love and care at times of great tragedy. More often, God chooses to reveal his kindness through the understated acts of ordinary men and women, than through miraculous or dramatic. I am convinced that God was present in Boston that afternoon; we just need our eyes opened to see how.
By the time you read this the London Marathon will have taken place amid heightened security. I pray it will do so without incident, and that the event will prove a fitting tribute to the victims of the Boston bombs as runners wear their black ribbons. Later this month (19th May) many of us will be participating in our own Hook Fun Run, perhaps you will consider joining me in wearing a black ribbon as we take part.
This blog post featured in the May 2013 edition of Hook Focus