The spotlight shined on Charlottesville this weekend. Violence drew the media’s insatiable thirst for sensationalism. A man killed a woman and injured 19 others. Two police officers died when their helicopter crashed. These events are the tip of the iceberg. More people hurt other people. Some people shouted angry and insulting words. In the midst of the chaos, our humanity suffered. It was not a devastating blow. The city will recover. In many ways, it recovered the same day. After the marchers and protesters went home, people returned to normal downtown life.
Social media, digital media, and old media focused on the negative. Friends contacted me to ask about Charlottesville. People rushed to quench the media thirst. And, where was God? People shouted, I was there. Or, they said, I knew someone who was. But, what about God? Was God present during the chaos? Clergy representing the presence of God in the world provided safe space inside a Methodist church. Then, they went home. On Sunday, many churches responded to the events. Ministers spoke of love, unity, and God’s presence in the world. Again, where was God?
When we live in the world, we have the opportunity to see God. We do not need major, catastrophic events to bring us to God. The psalmist writes, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there… If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (139:7-8, 11-12). God was present during the rally/protest. Later, when Emancipation Park grew silent, God was still there. The next day, on the Rivanna Trail, God was present. God is present everywhere.
When we see problems, we can react. False ideologies built on hatred and bigotry erode communities. Addressing hatred requires tact and patience. Addressing hatred with hateful words is unproductive. For example, we prayed for the family and friends of Heather Heyer. She was the woman who died during the protests on Saturday. What would happen if we prayed for the young man accused of killing her? Jesus says to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). His name is James Alex Fields, Jr. He is from Ohio and his mother said she did not know he was a white supremacist. She must be heartbroken. What if we see a murderer as a child of God who cannot, like the psalmist says, escape from God’s presence? Maybe it would help us more actively see God in the world.