Tony Woodlief | Author

Sheep and wolves

Because I am a father I think about the parents of that boy torn to pieces, of his sister whose leg was taken. I think about those parents in Newtown, whose biggest Christmas purchases were coffins for their sons and daughters. I think on the parents of the killers, too, and sometimes I am afraid, because they always seem shocked, and maybe they really didn’t know what evil had taken root in their families, which means I may not know, nor you either.

We fear they will be slaughtered sheep and we fear they will become wolves, and we feel helpless.

Some of us celebrated the capture of a Boston bomber because now we get to kill him. We celebrate because our yearning for vengeance runs deep, and our desire to know that we are not ourselves monsters runs deeper. That boy is a monster and so is the one who murdered all those children in Connecticut and so is the one who gunned down people in a Colorado movie theater. Something in them is broken and they are not human.

We need to believe this. We need to kiss our children as they sleep, and know they are normal, that it’s the severely broken who do unspeakable things, and our own can’t be broken like that because even now we would know, we would peer into their eyes and see the deadness there and we would know.

Instead we see their eyes filled up with love and so they can’t be monsters, not now or ever, because monsters could never have loved anyone, not even their own mothers and fathers.

Their mothers and fathers. What hell must it be, to gaze at a picture of your child, and know it would have been better had you strangled him in his crib? What hell to wonder what you did wrong, to wonder if he was always broken or if it was you who broke him, to wonder if this blood is on your hands, if the fires of hell burn hot for the child you wrongly raised?

What hell, what hell, and if all this doesn’t keep you on your knees for your children then you haven’t considered what world awaits them, how it hungers to make them wolves and slaughtered sheep in equal measure.

This world hungers, and we parents weep, and we pray that our pleading is heard, that if there is something in us that can be altered so they can be spared, God will alter it; that if our flesh might be torn in place of theirs, God might rend it; that if sheep must be slain, God will pass over our own, because the cost is more than we can bear.

For years, his demons made the boy tear his own clothes, hurl himself into the fire, leap into the sea’s deep waters. For years, his father kept him close, no doubt despite those who hissed in his ear: “This is because of your sin.” Religious experts couldn’t help the boy, priests couldn’t save the boy. That boy was helpless and without hope and still his father persevered, even where others would have let him perish, or would have bound him in a graveyard like the Gadarenes.

Then comes this roving, raving miracle-worker, and the father says to him: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” The father is weary and wary. He has seen miracle-workers before.

“If you can believe,” Christ replies, “all things are possible to him who believes.”

If. Who hasn’t lain awake at night, tormented by this if? We want to believe there is a good God who can spare our children the horrors of these recent days. Yet this same God allowed horrors for those parents, for their children. The gulf of if is wider than faith, sometimes.

“Lord,” cries the father, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

This is every parent, each of us believing our children will be safe, each of us struggling against the fear they will be anything but safe. We believe and we disbelieve and we pray the kingdom of heaven comes soon, for it belongs to such as these, and we who are no longer children have made such a wreck of it. We pray he will remember our children, that he will save them in spite of us. We pray in belief and we pray against disbelief, and we pray that he is listening.

On Key

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