Living in a World that Makes no Sense


The Boston Marathon bombing is yet another act of violence that we are now metabolizing as a society. I use the word “metabolizing” intentionally. Just as the body takes in what we eat and metabolizes it, we have taken in this senseless violence, we are trying to digest it, and we are struggling to incorporate it into our understanding of the world. We’re doing what we did with Columbine, 9/11, Sandy Hook, and all the other things that we’ve faced in the last years. We are trying now to UNDERSTAND it because then we will know how to make sense of it and what we ought to do with it. We need to find out who did this and why and then figure out how to prevent it happening again. We’ll have more canine bomb-sniffing units at the next marathon and scads more security in other ways, but at the end of the day, are you like me? I still think that senseless things make no sense. Understanding something about it satisfies me for a fleeting moment, but then I’m back with how difficult metabolizing the senseless can be.

The difficulty of metabolizing the world and our lives as they are is what brings many into therapy. Needing to understand and needing to digest are all a part of our humanity. Acceptance of things as they are is very, very difficult. And it doesn’t mean what most people assume—that we approve of it or like it. Acceptance is an important part of successful metabolizing but it is a process of allowing ourselves to see and experience the depth and vastness of reality, whether it is good or bad. As tragedies keep happening, are we able to stay emotionally awake and engaged with all the pain of it?  Sometimes we can live as if we are lactose intolerant and the world is made of milk. In other words, we live as if we CANNOT metabolize the events happening around us.

Metabolizing is a tricky business. There is much that I want to reject—throw up, if you will. But somehow, this is our world and we live here. How is your worldview or your faith helping you with the difficult process of metabolizing this attack?


  1. As horrible as the Boston bombing was, and I feel it, I’m having even more trouble metabolizing that heard on the PBS News Hour that there was a terrorist bombing in Baghdad Monday where 55 people died. It’s a fairly common occurrence there. We barely pay attention to it. And America played a significant role in the fact that Iraq now has those kinds of bombings often. I can’t metabolize the lack of concern we Americans have about that. Don’t the Iraqi civilians matter too? The bombs in Boston resemble the type of bombs used in Iraq. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it’s possible what happened in Boston was done by people who are angry with America for what’s happening in places like Iraq. I realize that the individual people killed and wounded in Boston were not responsible for the deaths of Iraqis and that bombing really does upset me.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Boston and been to the exact location of the bombings on Monday a number of times. Maybe I’m just not wanting to deal with that by focusing on this other issue.

    1. Michael,
      All reasonable thoughts. How does one rank the deaths of “foreigners” with our countrymen. No way. We have a natural tendency to feel more empathy for those who most closely resemble ourselves and more keenly feel fear when the source is closer, like Boston. But, each of the deaths is tragic. Frequency or familiarity doesn’t reduce the grief.
      Somewhere, to someone, this bombing makes sense, so I hesitate to use the term senseless. Criminals/terrorists act for a reason and sometimes achieve the very goal they desire, though it may not be readily apparent to us or seem wholly reasonable.

      I agree with Danny, our worldwide communication system, for good or ill, makes us far more aware of human depravity more than maybe any other time in history. Statistics likely reveal that this kind of thing happens, per capita, far less than prior generations. But, not infrequent enough and it’s ever more scary.

      As for metabolizing, if we were just the product of evolution, survival of the fittest, I should think we would expect such behavior and it would not seem out of “character” or even surprising. After all, we don’t complain that the cat eats the mouse. Because we do find it so objectionable, I see it as a clue that we are more than animals, not simply cells, genes and flesh.

    2. Hi, I appreciate that you bring up the fact that we don’t respond the same way to the violence that happens daily in foreign countries like we have responded to this violence. It is closer to home, but it does trouble me that we seem to discount whatever happens outside of the United States, unless it involves injury or hurt to U.S. citizens. And much of the violence and hurt that happens around the world happens by the hand of our government, by the hand of U.S. citizens running global corporations, etc. We ought to be more vocal about that, too. Would we be as upset or surprised if this bombing had happened in a poverty stricken neighborhood in the U.S.? If it hadn’t impacted so many white people? It’s all very disturbing.

  2. Well I’m not sure that I know how to make sense of this, but I know that the discussion around here involved an extended family member saying “what is happening with the world these days?” and me responding back “I think the world has always been this messed up, but we are just seeing it’s impact more on our soil via social media”

  3. Didn’t see a link to reply directly to Rob’s comment above, about “evolution”, I respectfully disagree. There is every indication that our society does react to these acts of violence the way any other species would. Why do we react most strongly to violence against those who are the most like ourselves? Because we want people like us to survive more than we want people unlike us to survive. And as for animals, I don’t think there are as many examples of mass violence for non-humans as there are for humans. I might be wrong about whether those numbers are close, but I certainly don’t think that humans commit fewer of these types of acts than other species do, at least not intentionally.

  4. At the end of the day, I don’t know if I understand or want to understand the motivations behind this kind of violence. What I do understand is that our society doesn’t love enough. We love when we have strong feelings (like the strong reactions against this violence and the need to respond by helping the victims), but we don’t as often do the hard work of love, which is to keep being loving in each moment: respecting, doing justice, righting wrongs, communicating about hurts and love in honest ways, even when we don’t have the feelings or passion to drive us.

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