As if the last few weeks have not brought us enough tragedy with devastating hurricanes, we woke up yesterday to the horror of another mass shooting.
As with most of you, I am still processing the unfathomable act of a man shooting into a crowd of people watching a concert. I didn’t just have friends of friends who were there, I had fellow church members who were at the concert and found themselves running for their lives. These are dear friends of mine. It makes my heart sick even thinking about it. I cannot imagine the turmoil going on in their hearts right now.
I don’t claim to have things figured out. The more I live, the more I realize how little I understand about the human heart and even about God. We don’t know why this man committed such a heinous act. But, even if we do find out why, we will never truly understand why. I don’t think we ever will in this broken world. Because I know so many of us are grieving, I thought I would share a few reflections on how I am processing this inexplicable tragedy.
I find myself wanting to condemn what this man did in the strongest possible way. The more I reflect on why I feel I must do this, the more I realize how appropriate it is to do. We are moral creatures who bear the very image of God in our humanity. And when I see something that betrays that image, when I witness this kind of wickedness, everything in me wants to scream, “This is pure evil!” When the President uttered those words, I couldn’t help but agree with him.
I don’t know what was in this man’s heart, but I do know that it was driven by pure evil. And rightfully so, seeing such evil makes me angry. I am angry that families have been ripped apart. I am angry that over fifty people, made in the image of God, had their lives egregiously taken from them. I am angry that hundreds more are fighting for their lives in hospital throughout Las Vegas. I am angry that my own friends had to witness such horrors.
Anger is a risky emotion, but it is not always a sinful emotion. Even as Christians, we should reflect the heart of God by showing righteous anger at the evil we see in this world. God never calls good evil or evil good. And we must not either (Isaiah 5:20).
Beyond anger, I feel a heavy sorrow as well. As a Christian, I cannot look at the world with Stoic resignation or indifference. I care about humanity. The people who were at that concert were no different than me. They had families, jobs, hobbies. I find myself asking, why them? Why not me? Admittedly, I don’t have answers to those questions.
But I know that when tragedies occur, we should genuinely feel the loss with those who are suffering. The apostle Paul said, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). In other words, to the best of your ability, seek to enter into their pain. This is hard and uncomfortable for many of us. We live in a culture where grief and sorrow are seen as weak and inefficient. We are moving so fast through life that sadness seems like a weight that slows us down. Others of us have become callous to the bombardment of bad news around the world that when tragedy strikes close to home, it doesn’t have the devastating effect it’s supposed to have.
It would seem that we all need help in learning how to mourn. Solomon said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Why would he say that unless he knew that there were vital lessons in life that could only be learned in the school of suffering. We all need help learning how to grieve.
I have experienced deep losses in my personal life. I would give anything just to hear my dad’s voice one more time. Sometimes I wish God would just give me a break. I don’t feel like feeling sad anymore. I often echo the words of the prophet Habakkuk, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:2-3).
I admit I don’t have the answers to these questions. But, I am learning that part of the grieving process is asking those questions regardless of whether we get the answers. I have found there is value in simply going to God with my emotions and questions. If nothing else, I am relying on God’s promise that in drawing near to him, he will draw near to me (James 4:8).
For those who, like me, are wrestling with the why questions, I don’t have any explanation for this tragedy. And to be honest, I would be very leery of anyone who did. I cannot justify why God would allow such tragedies to occur. When Job’s friends first heard of him losing his entire family, they showed up and said nothing for seven days. They simply wept and sat with him (Job 2:13). It was when they tried to give an explanation that they failed to love Job well.
While I don’t have any explanations today, I do have an unshakeable hope. The God that I worship and trust is not an absent or distant God. The God of the Bible is an ever-present God. He is the God who not only sees the evil and suffering on this world, but entered into it. Jesus was God in the flesh. He experienced the same tragedies and turmoil that we experience. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He was angry at the evil in the hearts of religious leaders.
But Jesus didn’t just experience the pain of living in our broken world. He experienced the curse of dying an unjust death on the cross. If anyone knows what it’s like to experience pure evil, it was Jesus. The cross of Christ was history’s cruelest act of pure evil. But, it was on the cross that Jesus was dealing with our deepest need. Our greatest problem is not that we are bad people who need fixing, it’s that we are spiritually dead people who need reviving.
Where is God in the midst of pure evil? In the cross, we see he is right there. He experiences it with us and for us. He bears the sin of humanity and takes our death. And the reason I have hope today is because death did not have the final word. Pure evil was swallowed up by pure love. The resurrection of Jesus proves that the evil of this world can be overcome. This doesn’t take away the pain, but it does sustain me in my pain. And it leads to a deeper longing to experience the resurrection life that Jesus offers to those who will trust in him.
May we continue to grieve the losses, pray for the victims and their families, and hold on to hope that the resurrection of Jesus guarantees he will one day make all things new.