By: Pastor Mary Beth Hartenstein

I cannot seem to escape the shadow of the valley of death.  Last week, I was wrestling with the deaths of the young men in various parts of our own area as well as the military death that had just been announced.  Over the weekend in the St. Louis area, a young man was killed by police and riots and protests have been unfolding in the area ever since.  And then last night came the news that actor, Robin Williams, committed suicide.  Shock.  Disbelief.  Alarm.   These are just a few words that would describe the feelings that I have had as once again I am faced with the reality that death is an unsettling part of life.

Just like last week, questions continue to pour forth that disquiet my spirit:

  • Why does it appear that an unarmed teenager is shot by police?
  • Why do individuals then react inappropriately by robbing and looting in their own neighborhood?
  • When the parents call for justice, what does that mean?
  • In 2014, why does someone with addiction and/or mental health issues feel that they have nowhere to turn for help?

I want it to be so different and yet the reality is that life has been disconcerting all along.  Read any of the stories found in the Hebrew Scriptures and there are lots of disturbing tales there of deceit, revenge and trickery.  Within the gospel stories there are accounts of “demons,” which many scholars believe are references to what individuals were calling mental illness.  What has happened over the last few days has been happening for a long time.  So why have things not changed?

Again, no great wisdom is coming forth from my mind as an answer to this question.  We have evolved and advanced in so many aspects of our lives and yet we cannot prevent bigotry and hatred from forming in our human hearts.  We have been able to progress in the areas of medicine and science to do so much good and yet we are still unable to help many who feel so alone or hurt that they cannot imagine living one more day.

The psalmists, who seemed to express with such beauty and directness, their wrestling with the challenges of life and death, hatred and love, justice and unfairness might just offer us to find our own place of safety to ask the questions that most disturb us and to find the answers we most long to discover.  It is within these lines that we can hear both the cry of despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) and peace that is offered, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)  May we not be afraid to lift up both of these in our own times of wrestling and challenge as life continues to unfold before us, with our God beside us.