I thought about the runners in Boston this morning.
Long before I heard about exploding bombs or injuries or death, I thought about the people running today—the 27,000 people fast enough and disciplined enough to qualify for the United States’ most prestigious race.
It’s a big deal to run in the Boston Marathon—out of reach for a plodder like me. Those who were finishing up when the bomb went off were slower, by Boston’s lofty standards: For many of them, merely lining up at the start would’ve been the pinnacle of their running careers. To finish—well, after being on their feet for more than 26 miles, the elation (weary as they might’ve been) would’ve gone beyond description.
And then for some, it was all torn away.
I’ve written about my marathon training a time or two on this blog—drawing a few tenuous parallels between running and a life of faith. Both require discipline. Both can be incredibly hard and even painful. But both offer rewards, both tangible and transcendent.
But I didn’t think that a marathon would run headlong into that sort of unexplainable horror we sometimes suffer in life—the kind of cataclysm that can make some question the mercy of God.
“Where was God?” Goes the question. “Where was He in …” and then the blank is filled with pain. In Aurora? In Sandy Hook? In Boston?
If you’re Christian, it’s a hard question to answer. If God is who He says He is, then He was there—there in some capacity. But why, then, did He seem to do nothing? And there’s no answer, none at all, that can satisfy.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” Paul writes in Romans 8:28. And yet he died at the hands of a Roman executioner.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care,” Jesus says in Matthew 10:29. And yet the blood of Jesus fell to the ground as He was crucified.
But then, I think to the prayer that same Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, you kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
That line suggests, to me, that God’s will is not always done here on earth. Sometimes, people with evil in their hearts and weapons in their hands get in the way. We were given free will—to love and obey or go our own way. And sometimes, we use that will badly.
We don’t have to like all that happens in this world. We should hate it, in fact. That free will, so destructive at times, is the very thing that can spur us on to correct and curb such destruction. We can pursue evil. We can care for the wounded. We can be the hands and feet of God.
“If you are losing faith in human nature today, watch what happens in the aftermath of an attack on the Boston Marathon,” writes The New York Times’ Ezra Klein. “The flood of donations crashed the Red Cross’s Web site. The organization tweeted that its blood supplies are already full. People are lining up outside of Tufts Medical Center to try and help. Runners are already vowing to be at marathons in the coming weeks and months. This won’t be the last time the squeakers run Boston. This won’t be the last time we gather at the finish line to marvel how much more we can take than anyone ever thought possible.”
Distance running is, in some ways, an exercise in dealing with pain. It requires those who participate to push through fatigue and hurt and boredom. Yes, the tragedy in Boston makes those standard-issue running trials feel pretty lame. And yet, the principles are still in place: When it seems outlandish to imagine going on, we do.
And so it is with faith sometimes. Sometimes, God’s will is not done on earth. Sometimes, evil walks with us. Runs with us. It hurts us and threatens to break us—and at the most heartbreaking times. And yet we go on. We go on.
A few hours after I heard the news, I drove to the local Y. I laced up my shoes, the soles still crusted with dust and mud from the previous weekend’s long run. I filled up my water bottle, flipped on my iPod and listened to Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer.
And then I began to run. I’ve got a marathon to do in a month. And I plan to do it.