I don’t know about you, but I am sick with the school shooting in Newtown; and I’m sick with the “news” coverage; sick with the quick analysis, sick with the rush to be first, the political posturing, with politicians and media cashing in on tragedy, the “key facts” and “what we know” articles when we have little clue what the “key facts” really are, and “what we know” is little more than “what we think we might know”. There is a strong voice in me that thinks the most appropriate response to this tragedy is humbled silence – to shut the hell up in the face of this, and incidentally to encourage others, especially our politicians and media folks, to shut the hell up too. It’s the beginning of repentance, which Jesus recommended in the face of tragedy (Luke 13:1-5). But what did he know? He wasn’t trying to stay in office, or be first with the news…
At the same time, I’m a pastor and I can’t be in this just for myself. Some of my sheep may be as sick as I am with this, but there are other sheep (many of them teachers and school administrators as well as parents and kids) who are hurting. I can’t abandon them. So I’ve been struggling the last few days with what to say to my sheep – especially what to say on Christmas Eve. It’s a poignant and emotional time anyway, but this year it’s almost unbearable. How do I give comfort without falling into the same cheap quick analysis that irks me from others?
Please pray for me, that I would bring some truly good news next Tuesday evening. If hearts are open, I very much want to preach the gospel.
In the meantime I’m sharing below what I wrote for our church newsletter. As you’ll see it reflects my scattered thinking, but I think it reflects where my heart is being pointed. I hope you might draw some courage and humlity from it too.
From The Pastor
As I write this, the airwaves are still full of news and chatter about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Perhaps by the time you read this, some of that will have died down. Or maybe not – the media has quite a taste for the tragic. Right now I’m still sorting through my own responses – anger, deep sadness and sorrow, denial and avoiding are all roiling around my heart vying for ascendancy. It’s very confusing, and I need to have something sorted out before I preach on Christmas Eve!
What can I say to you to give some comfort and help? These are the thoughts that keep recurring to me, and I offer them here in the hope that they may help anchor you in troubled and horrifying times:
- The news media is a dangerous thing to listen to. In the rush to be first much gossip and misinformation is being disseminated. Listening to it will only increase the confusion and sense of chaos. Jordan Kern said at a recent SYF meeting that she tunes the “news” out for a while until things have settled down and the gossip and innuendo are sorted out from the facts. I think there is great wisdom in that;
- Evil, the Darkness, is real. It’s not simply the absence of good, or the absence of education or regulation or legislation. There’s a malevolence and insanity to it. It’s not a metaphor, it’s real and causes real pain and horror and death. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. “;
- We are fundamentally helpless in the face of this malevolence. Perhaps we have been taken in by the illusion that we can master anything if we only apply enough money, technology, education or diplomacy. If so, perhaps this incident will wake us up to our deep vulnerability that will not be conquered by any human effort;
- Instead of calling prematurely for ways to “fix” the problem and be in control, we need to be compassionate for those who suffer every day in broken homes and broken lives. If we all are as vulnerable as I think we are, we need to be caring and compassionate for others every day, not just when terror reveals our vulnerability;
- Jesus was asked about this sort of thing (Luke 13:1-5). His response may not seem very sympathetic but note that He’s not talking to the victims of tragedy but to those who ask Him about it. Perhaps they’re media types who just want to get his comments. Maybe they’re scholars who want to figure it all out. In any case, here’s what Jesus said: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
He casts no blame on Pilate or the tower builders. Nor does he explain why the tragedies happen. He points to His hearers’ need to repent. If I had been in that group, I would have noted that He didn’t invite the media to repent, or the makers of violent movies and video games, or the political parties or government or schools to repent. He invited me to repent. So in the face of tragedies that I cannot master or explain, of what do I need to repent? Of my acting as though tragedy will never happen to me? Of my need to be in control? Of my need to find someone (else) to blame? Of my illusions of invulnerability? Of my living as though I don’t need God desperately every moment? Of thinking that the way I live has no effect on others? Of thinking I’m less sinful than others? Of living for myself?
Of what do you need to repent, and run to Christ for mercy? He welcomes such people you know. It really delights Him (Luke 15:7).
Now in the face of all this darkness and gloom, there is one more crucial thing to remember: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John1:5). We may be confused or upset, but God is not. The cross shows us that He works in the very darkest of events for our good and His glory. Perhaps even now He is working in you to make you more tender, more compassionate, more humble, more open, more honest, more resolute in the faith.
I can’t explain everything. But I can repent of my selfishness and trust that in doing that, His light will shine through me.
How about you?
Finally, one more note – in looking for some history on school shootings, I found that there have been several tragedies of equal or larger scale of which I was not even aware (see here for a list – of these 10, I was aware of only 3). One more thing of which to repent.
One of my favorite ads from the Episcopal Church – different layout but same idea.
Caption: Will It Take 6 Strong Men To Get You Back To Church?
Here’s an ad I found via Google, from Lakemount Worship Centre in Ontario. I get a charge out of smart-aleck ads – being prophetic in a not-too-much-in-your-face way.
What do you think – too smarty for Freeburg?
OK, you know how I feel about casinos and gambling (I’m agin’ it!) – but here is one man’s story that illustrates the theology behind my feeling. No, it’s not about some guy who’s life was crushed because he won the lottery. It does make me ask what real trust is, and how it works.
Man I’m sick of the ads, the phone calls, the junk mail, the screaming and negativity. Hard to believe anyone makes any money on this but they do – but that’s another post. Tomorrow we’ll cast our ballots (at least many of us will) and we’ll be relieved of the campaigning, at least for a little while. But what’s a Christian to do in the midst of all this? Two things:
- don’t hide your head in a bucket – be aware, look around, and pray
- don’t get caught up in the riptides of popular opinion and “news” – pray
But what, exactly should a Christian pray for? Al Mohler, president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has an excellent article on this, listing 10 things a Christian (liberal or conservative) should pray for. Here they are in summary – if you’d like to read the whole article (which isn’t that long) click here.
- “First we should pray that God will bless America with leaders better than we deserve.” I’ve often thought that in a democracy people get exactly the leaders they deserve – pandering politicians succeed only because we vote for them. Mohler’s first point is a humble one – pray for leadership better than we deserve.
- “We should pray that Americans will be motivated to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship, yet also that we will be stripped of an unhealthy and idolatrous confidence in the power of government to save us.” It is part of your obedience, Christian, to vote! To do this without worshipping the state takes good balance.
- “We must pray that Americans will vote by conscience, not merely on the basis of celebrity or emotion.” Honestly I wonder if we have a conscience anymore, but this is what the Christian is to pursue. Maybe if we spent more time with our own consciences rather than yelling at others about theirs, we’d have a more humble society.
- “We must pray that Americans will vote to defend the least among us — and especially those who have no vote.” The left will look to minorities, the poor while the right will look to victims of abortion. Mohler reminds us that the election is about far more than winning or losing – it’s about how we treat the defenseless.
- “We should pray that God will prick the conscience of the nation on issues of morality, righteousness, and respect for marriage as the central institution of human civilization.” Lefty friends will not agree on the last clause, but the intent here is important – that we be moved and humbled by our consciences rather than forced and constrained by our laws.
- “We should pray that God will protect these candidates and their families.” They are people under incredible strain – even if they are from the opposing party, all the reason to pray for their persons.
- “We should pray that the election is conducted with honor, civility, respect, and justice.” In my view this would be a miracle in and of itself! Attorneys are already lining up to contest close votes. But even if the election takes days and weeks to determine, the Christian will conduct him or herself with honor and civility because the know this election is not ultimate.
- “We must pray that Americans will be prepared to accept the results of the election with respect and kindness.” Easier for a Calvinist perhaps, as the results, whichever party they favor, will be the will of God. Should the opposing party win, we still look for God’s will and treat each other as fallible human beings.
- “We should pray that this election would lead to even greater opportunities to preach the Gospel, and that the freedom of the church will be respected, honored, and protected.”
- “We must pray for the church, praying that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ would be strengthened in the truth, grounded in the faith, and empowered for witness and ministry.”
Mohler has more to say on each of these points, but I think there’s plenty of meat here for your prayer life.
I’m sick of them, aren’t you?
Good thing humans aren’t running the election unto salvation!