Breaking My Heart Over April Jones

The abduction of April Jones, the little girl from Machynlleth, Powys, has touched so many of us. I can't remember a news story that has touched me more, affected me so emotionally and personally, perhaps because I know what it means to lose a daughter.

The title and contents of Dr. Peter Saunders blog this morning struck me as poignant and expresses the deep emotional connection I feel with this tragedy. Tears and prayers and a feeling of helplessness.

What I find especially hard is the thought of any child being put through an ordeal the likes of which I cannot imagine. As soon as the tendrils of empathic thought in my mind tentatively explore this direction of thought, they recoil as if burnt. I do not want to consider that any human being could visit such cruelty on a little child, with all their beautiful innocence and potential. The fear and incomprehension she must have felt...It makes me feel physically sick. The loss and desperation her parents must feel at present claws at my insides...Feelings so horribly familiar. Louise remembers looking at our daughter's lifeless body and just begging, pleading that she would take a breath. If she just took a breath, everything would be OK. But she didn't.

Perhaps this is just one reason I have thrown myself into the most heartfelt pleading with God over the last week. Through my prayer I have had a growing sense of dread, a growing sense of the inevitable, that has wrenched a deeply emotional response from the bottom of my heart. I know that God basically always answers my prayers, especially when they are so much a part of my being...Yet, though I still hope (I do not pretend to be able to predict what the LORD will do) I have a growing sense of the inevitable over this case, a growing sense of the tenure of my prayer changing, to her being with Him now. And so safe from the pain, safe from the suffering.

Of course, this fills me with anger, I feel frustrated that such a thing could be allowed to happen at all, I feel sick, saddened and angry with the perpetrator, but also I feel frustrated that God didn't stop time/ turn the clock back/ change reality because (like a petulant child) I (and probably lots of others, to be fair) want Him to. I also feel that if He did do something amazing, it would be an indisputable sign of the power of faith & prayer. In fact, my hypothesis seems pretty positive all the way round really, so please God, can't you just sort this all out so that little April is at home with her family, safe and snug?

Of course, it is OK to have these reactions. They don't constitute a lack of faith, rather faith is about asking questions and having arguments. I have always found that God responds well to me arguing with Him. In fact it has turned out to be a most productive form of prayer. It's through an honest argument He often helps me to understand why. Recall Jacob wrestling with the LORD at the Jabbok, or Abraham's bidding war with God over Sodom. Anger at the perpetrator is also righteous I would think, and woe betide those who hurt little children, for it would be better that a millstone were tied around their necks and they were cast into the sea (Matthew 18:6; Luke 17:2; Mark 9:42). Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God belongs to the little children so we can be confident that He has wrapped April in His loving arms and holds her close: every tear will be wiped away.

The fact that God has given us free will means that the abductor can act the way he has acted. He is free to do so, without God, or Superman turning up to stop Him. It is a choice he has made, though there necessarily will be consequences and those consequences will no doubt be terrible: “It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice” (Prov. 18:5).  This is because he has chosen to turn his back on God and on humanity, acting in the most appalling way, feeding some deep seated, demonic craving he must know is nothing short of aberration, even in a society that indulges the pursuit of self-indulgence, especially in regard to matters of sexuality.

My mind ran to the best selling book The Shack. A book I was pestered to read just before I lost Ruth. I remember feeling a great empathy with the lead character, Mack, who loses his daughter to a serial killer. Mack is depressed and loses his faith after this happens. I remember wondering if I could cope if I lost my little girl and concluding that I didn't think I could. Little did I know what was about to happen.

The book is a novel, a story someone has written in order to provide an insight as to why God allows suffering in the world. It is not a theology text book and there has been a great deal of criticism as well as praise for it's theological contents, but I wouldn't discount some degree of divine inspiration in its contents. Certainly much of it resonated with me on a very deep level, even though the author hasn't got everything right. That said, I read it as a book, not a Catechism and I have gained a great deal from reading it because it deals with suffering. It provides some common theodicies in response to the difficult question of why God allows suffering, like the abduction and suffering experienced by Mack's daughter. God doesn't do anything evil, in fact evil is a privation- an absence of God (p. 126). Evil is a direct result of free will and this is explained as God the Father (Papa in the book) respecting the choices of humans (p.123). Good can of course, come from evil (p.136) and it is how we deal with the evil that confronts us that often makes all the difference, both in our lives and in those of others. 

Particularly pertinent perhaps, is the focus on God’s character and whether or not He is trustworthy. Papa says, “If you knew that I was good and that everything... is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me” (p.126). Thus begins Mack’s investigation into whether or not God is good, a process which culminates in his meeting with Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom. She asks Mack to judge between his own children; to save two of them and condemn the other three to Hell. He is unable to do so and pleads that he might be allowed to take their place instead. This narrative is an awesome way of dropping you into the realisation of a stunning parallel with Jesus. You might not even see it coming, but when you realise where Mack's unconditional love of his children leads him, you cannot help but conclude that God is indeed good. God the Father (Papa) shared in God the Son's (Jesus) suffering because he could not bear to condemn His children (Papa is also scarred by the nails of Jesus’ cross, p.95- which is not theologically possible, but works in the story to get the point across). This is like the way in which we see, in the Old Testament, Israel referred to as the vineyard. The Prophets are constantly warning Israel that if it does not produce good fruit, the vineyard owner will come and tear up the vineyard. What we actually see is the vineyard owner uniting Himself with the vine.

Realising that God is good and coming to understand the horror that it is to judge or condemn those you love, Mack chooses to trust God. Even if he does not understand His purposes, knowing that God is good is enough. This focus on God’s character is important, and reflects Scripture to a degree (e.g. Job 412 Cor 12:9).

There was a service for little April this weekend at Machynlleth church and Reverend Kathleen Rogers opening the service said, ‘We cannot bring little April, our sweet and innocent little girl, home as we had hoped. But our hope has now been moved on to sure and certain hope that she is in the arms of Jesus.’ For me personally, such well meaning words seem empty platitudes. I need something with more depth; the detailed exploration of The Shack, or the words of Paul Claudel: “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

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