There is a peculiar sense of loss felt when we witness unspeakable tragedy such as the mass shooting that devastated Las Vegas and our nation this week. Raw and varied emotions flow out of our consciousness. Anger, confusion, sadness and fear flood to the surface of our souls. These sorts of normal reactions unearth deep and serious questions.
How can this sort of thing happen?
Who could do something like this?
Why does this keep happening?
How could God allow this to happen?
If God is real, where is He in all of this?
As Christians, how might we “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have?” (I Peter 3:5) When our neighbors, co-workers, friends and children ask hard-to-answer questions, how should we respond?
1) With Empathy.
Resist the urge to simplify and minimize honest questions with trite and pithy clichés. Instead, reflect the empathy and understanding of Jesus. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, one of his closest and most devoted friends, Mary – Lazarus’ sister, had some very raw and honest words for him:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)
Translation: “Where were you Jesus?” or “God, I don’t understand why you let this happen to me? Can you relate to Mary in this moment? I certainly can. Jesus could have easily and justifiably responded to Mary with lofty words, theological explanations or even rebuke about the hardships of a fallen world. But this isn’t what Jesus does. Instead, John records this remarkable moment:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled… and then, Jesus wept. (John 11:33, 35)
Those watching the scene unfold made this comment about Jesus: “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36) We learn a powerful lesson about what people need in the midst of pain and suffering from Jesus. Hurting people need something much more than answers and explanations. Hurting people need empathy and love. We must resist the knee jerk reaction to solve every problem and explain away hard things in moments of grief and confusion. The first thing we offer should be compassion and understanding. We should pause to feel what they are feeling. We should weep with those who are weeping. Let it be said of us, “See how well they loved!”
2) With Hope.
Avoid heresy and heretics who claim these sort of acts are God’s judgment on a sinful nation, city or people. Every time a tragedy like this unfolds a self-appointed false prophet like Pat Robertson or the like will decry it as some form of judgement.
Instead, remember that Jesus said such claims were nonsense. (John 9:3) While we can’t make declarations about judgement, we can say in confidence that God will use tragedy and suffering – even ones wrought by evil means, as a way of manifesting His glory and bringing about hope. That is the entirety of the Gospel message. Nothing seemed as hopeless and tragic as the brutal murder of Jesus on a Roman cross at the hands of evil conspirators. Yet, we know that the horror and pain of the cross paved the way for Resurrection, life and eternal hope.
As Tim Keller has said, “In the end, God will use evil to do the opposite of what was intended.”
In moments like these, let us not speculate on what we do not know, but confidently cling to what we do know – the Resurrection changes everything.
3) With Gravity.
As followers of Jesus we must take seriously the plight and reality of evil. We live in a broken, fractured and fallen world. By in large our culture doesn’t take the nature of evil very seriously. We brush it off and in some cases celebrate it. When we do so, we do so at our own peril. As Westerners we tend to think of an ‘evil force’ as a weird and silly notion. We are historically unique in doing so, and arrogant to feel superior for it.
Instead, we ought to fight evil and the evil one. Jesus stands against evil, violence and oppressive forces and so should we.
4) With Prayer.
We pray as Jesus taught us, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As Glen H. Stassen wrote in his book, Living the Sermon on the Mount:
“When you pray that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, envision conflict being resolved, marriages and families healed, truth told and people faithful to one another, initiatives that break through the vicious cycles of retaliation, and love that creates new community among people through forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking.”
We pray this personally. “In my life, let YOUR Kingdom come.” We offer the throne of our lives to Jesus and surrender ourselves to Him as a willing and acceptable sacrifice for His glory. We become people of peace, reconciliation, renewal, humility, love and truth.
We pray this corporately. God’s Kingdom is so much bigger than our individualistic notions. Our congregational communities exist for the sake of our neighboring communities. We can become the people of “as it is in heaven” here on earth. We can be beacons of light shining in a dark world. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. We can be the instruments of grace God uses to heal and bind up wounded hearts. We can be heralds of the good news that the grave doesn’t get the last word.
May we be “as in heaven” people to all those around us.