Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The depths of Christ in the face of tragedy

A football player commemorates the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
I must confess, I avoid the 24-hour news cycle like the plague. Not that I'm totally ignorant of world events; I read the paper most days of the week and get my news almost exclusively from print sources and their online counterparts. So if the television is on in my home this time of year, odds are good that there's football being played somewhere.

But there are times when a tragedy of such crushing proportions forces itself upon us that even such escapist events as pro sports cannot help but address it, as was the case this weekend with the shooting in Connecticut. Yet I was struck with the inept and impotent sentiments offered on the television and radio, the inability of our religiously sterile and safe culture to deal adequately with such a tragedy. I do not say this with condescension but compassion. In the effort to not offend anyone, we also do not console anyone.

Thus I was reminded of the depths we have in Christ to make sense of, suffer through, and respond to such catastrophic events.

1. Instead of just "sending thoughts", we can pray. This was the sentiment I heard most often this weekend. Yet I was struck with the great irony that more than one sports commentator accurately pointed out: sports is a distraction—an escape—in such tragic circumstances. So "we send you our thoughts" and then we try to forget about it all. 

I'm not sure what they think our thoughts do, but I know what our prayers do. More importantly, I know who's on the other end of those prayers interceding for us. And I know who's Spirit dwells in and prays for us when we do not know what to pray.
    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
    (Romans 8:31-35 ESV)
2. Instead of just making excuses for the killer, we can be honest about evil. He was depressed. He came from a broken home. He was an outcast in school. He was abused, neglected, abandoned. I'm not sure if any of these things are true since they're all off the top of my head, but these are all the sorts of things said when something like this happens. But in trying to explain the motive, are we trying to avoid the underlying problem that is always there: sin and evil? Are we denying the "banality of evil" as Hannah Arendt succinctly put it when she studied the perpetrators of the atrocities during the Holocaust? The frightening thing about evil is not that it's exceptional. No, quite the opposite. It is common. It is ordinary. It's your neighbor. It is us.

This world is broken, humanity is fallen. No one goes untouched or unscathed. Sin is real and it's in all of us.
    And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
    (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV)

3. Instead of just raging against injustice, we can rest in God's righteous judgment. For many people, any murder/suicide is infuriating because the killer does not get to "face justice". He's taking the easy way out. But this falsely assumes that we humans are better equipped to exact justice than is God. This is not to deny the need for courts, the prison system, and even capital punishment, but it is a reminder that when someone bypasses everything else, they cannot bypass the justice of God.
    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
    (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)
4. Instead of just growing hard, we can be softened through tragedy. If you live in this world long enough you learn coping mechanisms for such tragedies. Some escape through alcohol, drugs, sports and other banal distractions. Some deny its reality and explain it away. Yet others grow hard to the world to avoid the constant pain. Christians are called to do something utterly different and utterly counterintuitive: we let it make us soft. Let it drive our compassion for victims. Let is spur our passion for the gospel for sinners. Let it ignite our pursuit of justice. And let is spark our cry with the Apostle Paul, the Spirit and the Bride, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
(Revelation 21:4-5 ESV)

5. Instead of just panicking, we can trust God's sovereignty. I felt it in myself when I heard of the shooting. My first thought was to my three year-old daughter, to her great vulnerability in a dangerous world. And I wanted to save her from it all. Yet this response is similar the third in the list: just as we subtly assume we are better equipped than God to judge the wicked, we can also begin to think we are better equipped than God to protect the innocent.
    “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
    (Matthew 18:10-14 ESV)

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