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America's rough week

(RNS) Life is difficult. It can knock you down. Sometimes, an entire nation gets knocked down.

First it was Boston. Some mad man (or men) lays waste to one of America's most hallowed sporting events — the Boston Marathon. Sidewalks that should have been covered with confetti were covered in blood.

Then it was the quintessential small Texas town of West. Populated by hearty Czech immigrants, folks in West worked hard in their shops, bakeries and fertilizer plant until the plant exploded. A magnitude-2.1 on the Richter scale, witnesses compared it to a nuclear bomb. Dozens are feared dead.

American flag image courtesy Shutterstock (

American flag image courtesy Shutterstock (

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In the nation's capital, we had the bitter realization that something is broken that will not be easily repaired. A common-sense proposal that emerged from the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, background checks to prevent convicted felons and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing guns online or at gun shows, fell prey to Washington gridlock. None of the Newtown proposals — the ban on assault weapons, limits on the number of bullets a gun can hold or expanded background checks — could garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster.

Finally, there were the ricin-laced letters sent to a Republican senator and the president.

Taken together, it was a bruising week for a nation wearied by war and nagged by chronic unemployment.

Yet Americans are people of faith. As millions repair to their churches, synagogues, mosques and temples this weekend for spiritual succor, some will quote a familiar passage from the Bible: "All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose." Really?

Tell that to the Richard family who lost their 8-year-old son in the new Boston Massacre, or to the families of the half-dozen volunteer firefighters who, it increasingly appears, gave their lives trying to save the town of West.

Fortunately, the King James translators got it wrong. No surprise. They had only a dozen or so ancient manuscripts to work from. Today's translators have more than 5,000. Examine St. Paul's letter to the Romans in its original Greek, and you'll discover something different. "God works in all things for good," said St. Paul, even in the midst of tragedy. Especially in the midst of tragedy.

I saw it this week. Marathon runners crossing the finish line exhausted yet continuing to run miles to the nearest hospital to donate blood. Neighbors in West, Texas, taking in neighbors, sharing food, clothing, whatever. Just ordinary citizens acting like the heroes we all aspire to be.

America has had a jarring week. But the small acts of her people should give us hope. And the quiet assurance that better days lie ahead.

(Oliver Thomas is the author of "10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You." This column originally appeared in USA Today.)