We are hardly a week into August and there have been eight mass shootings in the US. Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, New York and Tennessee have seen collectively the loss of 39 lives and 76 people seriously injured. The death toll in the for US following gun violence, for the month of July of this year, was 47. June saw 27 innocent people die in the same horrific circumstances.
There are times when all that we can pray is that God would hear within the anguish of our hearts all that we cannot express in words. What words are there to adequately describe the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones, or those whose lives were thrown into chaos by these horrific acts of violence?
Watching the news unfold, I felt such a nauseating mix of horror, anger and heartbreak. Amidst the grief, rising up within, I was gripped by that familiar, unanswerable question, “Why, God? Why did you allow this?” Answers that try to make sense of events like this by appealing to our own free will, or the presence of evil, or the need for gun control, or the problem of violence in the media and so on…none of these approaches really help in the moment. We can draw our conclusions theologically, but existentially these attempts fall flat.
So what can we know about the heart of God in so much tragedy? In all our shock and grief, in all our anger and dismay at so much pain and suffering, here are three things we can know for sure about God:
- God has not abandoned us.
Our trust in God has been severely tested by these ongoing events. Where might we draw such confidence? What would convince us to believe with conviction the promise that God has made us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). How can we be so sure? We are invited to look to the Cross – the place where Jesus supremely demonstrated His love for us by not only refusing to abandon us, but by literally joining us in our pain and suffering.
The agony of the cross was more than the physical torture, public humiliation and painful death. For Jesus, it was the torment of separation from the Father – the God whom He knew to be powerful now seemed furthest from him. In Psalm 22, we find Jesus’ words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” More completely than any other person ever will, Jesus entered into the worst of human suffering and knew the agonizing experience of abandonment by God. The tension we face in the knowledge and experience of a good and loving God, and the reality of hurt, bewilderment and suffering that we are undergoing – Jesus entered that tension in full on the cross.
- God can be trusted.
Even in the most difficult times — or better, especially in those times — God would exhort us to trust Him. We have a Savior in Jesus who knows our humanity because he came to us in person. We have a heavenly Father who knows the terrible tragedy of losing His only son. But the final word is not one of defeat, because through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have the promise that the bonds of death have been broken. The victory over evil is assured. Paul writes, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” [Colossians 2:13-15]. Because of Jesus, because of the cross, death has been defeated and goodness, mercy, justice, peace and love will prevail. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
- God’s call to us.
By His Holy Spirit, we join our hearts with the heart of Jesus, who is with all who grieve and all who are suffering. David wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” [Psalm 23:4]. Do we imagine that this promise is only for those who have died? No, this assurance is given to all of us who are left to grieve; His rod to guide us, His staff to make a way for us.
So our calling is to discern where Jesus is and to join Him. As the dust settles on these tragic events – this is our calling as His people. The apostle Paul writes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [Romans 12:21] So let us love louder. Let us pray harder. Let us not allow the evil in this world to overcome our trust in God, and let us serve all who grieve in the power of His love and mercy.
Let us pray together:
Lord Jesus, please hear within our hearts all that we cannot express in words.
We entrust all those who have perished to your eternal love and care. We pray for all the families who grieve the tragic loss of a precious life. Make your presence known, hold them fast in your love, be with those who must break tragic news, protect them in their grief, keep the media at bay. We pray for all those traumatized by these events, those who stood in the line of fire and survived.
Be with the wounded and heal their bodies. Be with the traumatized and heal the pain of their memory. Be with all families and friends in their anguish and grief. Give wisdom to all in authority. In the perfection of your love, banish fear, and surround them with your love. In such vile wickedness, redeem what seems to be irredeemable. Draw all those whose lives have been torn apart by this evil, that they might take refuge in the shadow of your wings. In overwhelming grief, let your healing come.
In your name we pray, Amen.