By Susan K. Smith,
The poet Countee Cullen wrestled, as do all of us, with the question of where God might be found in the midst of abject injustice. His poem, “Yet Do I Marvel,” captures his questions and his struggle:
I doubt not God is good, well meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble, could tell why
The buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirror Him must some day die.
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing,
To make a poet black, and bid him sing.
It surely puzzles the average mind which wrestles with the notion of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God that injustice and why it is that evil and injustice can persist and indeed flourish in spite of this kind of God. Because of the uniqueness of this God, every single snowflake that falls from the sky is different; every single human being has fingerprints that are uniquely his or her own; there are no duplicates. Every single stripe on every single tiger is different. Every single human being, billions of us, are distinguishable from the structure of our faces, the placement and color of our eyes. Every single person’s voice is different, in spite of there being, presumably, just one larynx, constitutionally, within us all. This God made a universe which we cannot begin to understand and the depth and expanse of which we have not begun to penetrate. Marvel? How can we not? Who can doubt that this God is “excellent,” as Psalm 8 states so eloquently?
And yet, evil sits in our midst. Evil and injustice rub against our wearied and scarred spirits, making us bleed and feel the pain of new scrapes on top of old ones. We have scabs from having fought injustice which would heal were it not for the constant and persistent revisitation of evil upon us. There is no running from it, no successful running. “Whither shall we flee from Your presence?” asks the psalmist in Psalm 139, but we can ask the same question of evil. “Whither shall we flee from you? Wherever we go, you are there. Yes, God is there …but so are you.” Injustice and evil are unwelcome intruders in our lives …and our magnificent God allows these intruders to stay amongst us.
Last week, the mother of Kalief Browder, the young boy who spent three years in Rikers Island after being blamed for stealing someone’s backpack, something which he did not do …died. The article said she died of a broken heart. Kalief stayed in Rikers awaiting a trial, and had to stay there because his family could not afford the $3000 to bail him out. He refused to enter a plea or agree to a plea deal because, he said, he had not done anything. In prison, he was subjected to beatings by inmates and guards alike. At the time of his arrest, he was 16 years old. Once in jail, he spent nearly two of the three years in solitary confinement. After three years, he was released, and a year later, committed suicide. His mother’s heart was broken, both from his wrongful imprisonment and of course, because of his suicide.
People go through this kind of injustice every day; the experiences of people of color are always exacerbated and more intensely unjust because of their color …and yet, these bruised, battered, belittled people continue to push forward, poets in the experience called life, singing, because to not sing would mean they would cease to breathe and thus to live.
Who knows why God allows the injustice and cruelty to sit alongside Him/Her? We must all marvel at the fact that in spite of that, people continue to be born, to fight against evil and sometimes push through it. People continue to birth new beauty of their own human spirits in spite of being taunted and pulled by evil, God notwithstanding.
Poets are still being born and are still singing. Yes, we do marvel. We do, indeed.
Amen and amen.