It wasn’t the outcome any of us had hoped or prayed for.
On Oct. 10, after a week-long search during which her parents agonized and a community was shaken to the core, Denver police confirmed 10-year-old Jessica Rigdeway’s body was identified. When I heard the news, I held my breath, bit back angry tears, and tried to escape grizzly images of her final moments my mind conjured.
For most parents — it’s our worst nightmare. And there are really no words to adequately express the sorrow we feel for this family walking through utter despair over a crime so unconscionable.
I lifted up an urgent prayer for God to surround them with His presence, and to touch a nation in mourning. The scripture that comes to my mind now is, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Because in light of a tragedy such as this one, well — understanding is hard to come by.
I don’t know about you, but this sort of news stays with me, haunts me, scares me. And the questions rush through my mind. How could another human being do this to an innocent child? How could someone be so heartless? How can any of us bear to live in a world where such cruelty is tolerated? But there is no understanding of such evil pathology.
But one question that I have an easier time answering as my journey with faith matures is this one: “Where was God?”
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, often question why God allows unthinkable suffering. War. Poverty. Cancer. Rape. Murder. Gang violence. Greed. Oppression. Trafficking. Yes — our fallen humanity finds heinous ways to inflict pain.
But God was never the author of such evil; in fact, he gave us the gift of salvation through His Son when our propensity for rebellion became obvious. We are free to submit to His will and His way by choice, not by force. And some will choose to succumb to the dark side.
God does not initiate such suffering, but I often contemplate that God did not spare even His own son. Our Creator allowed Jesus to fulfill His destiny because he knew that His death would bring new life to the generations.
I often wonder how agonizing it must have been for Him when Jesus pled, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but your be done” (Luke 22:42). But in His death, God’s children were redeemed. I wonder what good Jessica’s death will bring to her community.
So while I struggle still to understand, I don’t hold God accountable for the actions of Jessica’s murderer. I’m certain He grieved for her. I pray He gave her some measure of mercy during her ordeal. And I try to focus on God’s presence in the many dollars raised, prayers lifted, meals delivered and words spoken and written offering healing and hope to a grieving community.
That’s where He is.
As for sweet, beautiful, Jessica, the only image of her I will work to keep in my mind’s eye is this one: a cheerful, forever 10-year-old girl, safely nestled in the embrace of our sweet savior, smiling down on her parents.
Note to readers: Want to do something good for children to honor Jessica’s life? Participate in Make a Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 27. Check out children.azcentral.com for more details.
• Freelance writer Diane Meehl is a longtime Ahwatukee Foothills resident. Along with her family, she worships at Mountain View Lutheran Church. She takes compliments and complaints (in that order) at firstname.lastname@example.org.