This weekend at Eastbrook Church, I set aside the sermon I had prepared in order to speak to the tragedy that struck Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. My desire was to address both how we are to understand a shocking event like this and how we should respond to it as Christians.
You can listen to the message here.
You can read the manuscript that I preached from below.
When news came about midday of the tragic events unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a pit seemed to open in my stomach. Like many of you, I found it difficult to fathom exactly what had happened when 26 people, ranging from age 6 to 56, students and faculty, were killed in the school. And then, when video of families at the scene appeared, followed by the able responses from the authorities, and the statement from our president came, I found the situation overwhelming.
I know that many people are asking the same question that was the top article story for CNN’s news web-site: “Why?” Why did this happen? Why would someone do this? Why are all these tragedies happening in our country?
Questions will float around the causes for this tragedy in Connecticut. Is it lack of appropriate gun control? Is it lack of defensive measures within our schools and public spaces? Is it too much violence in media, whether movies or video games? Is it the social breakdown in our country? Is the cause divorce? Is it disconnectedness or hyper-individualism where people are not known? Is it Facebook or the internet? Is it the meaninglessness of affluent, Western existence? Maybe you have your own questions.
How can we really come to some sort of understanding in this world?
Let me start at the basics. The Christian view of the world follows a basic, simple pattern like this:
- Creation: God by His mighty power created the world from nothing in original beauty and purity. We look at the world and we can see the glimmers of the original glory and beauty of the world: breath-taking sunsets and multi-colored deep sea fish; the star-pierced night sky and the flecks of color in the iris of a human eye
- Fall: However, there was a moment when human beings pushed away from God’s will in favor of their own will. In that moment, sin and evil broke into the world and the world has suffered ever since. The chasm of sin and evil runs through our world, our nations, our cities, and, yes, even our own lives
- Sin & Need for Redemption: Because of sin and evil, the entire world and every human being is in need of redemption. That is, we see and experience the power of sin and evil all around us. Without minimizing Friday’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the reality is that the world is no less, nor more, broken and evil today than it was 100 or 1,000 years ago. All around us, human lives are calling out for salvation and redemption. We see it in Newton, CT, but we also see it in the inter-tribal violence near Goma, in eastern Congo, and the thousands killed since April 2011 in Syria. The world God made in purity is wracked by evil and in need of redemption.
- Jesus’ Incarnation: Of course, the Christian story does not end there. It leads us to the life of Jesus of Nazareth nearly 2,000 years ago. The Christians view of reality says that Jesus came not just as a man, but as God Himself breaking into our broken and sin-stained world. Because God is holy, by nature of His pure character He could not stand evil. But we believe that Jesus took upon Himself the suffering and evil due to our world by going the way of death on the Cross. He took our place, but also did what Israel could not do. He lived the life of God in the face of accusation and oppression, dealing a decisive victory blow to sin, evil, death, and the accusation of Satan at the Cross. We believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection the curse of sin has been rolled back and the new life and joy of the kingdom of God is breaking in.
- New Life: Finally, we believe that although the kingdom has come in Jesus’ incarnation 2,000 years ago, we believe the kingdom will fully come at the climax of human history in Jesus’ return. Until that time, all of humanity lives within the tension of the power of sin and evil coughing out its death throes until Jesus returns to bring the fullness of His kingdom and restoration of hope.
How do we come to an understanding of what’s happened on Friday? We have to understand it in light of the story of our world. The stories of inevitable human progress and human innocence just cannot bring fruitful explanation to human tragedies that are all at once disheartening in their repetitiveness, angering in their brutality, and grievous in their scope.
The Christian view of reality helps to bring some sense to at least the possibility of why such a thing could happen. Our world broke apart from God and we long and hunger for redemption until it comes into every life and community throughout our world.
Pastoral Reflection and Recommendations
This is all helpful, but I have to say that further theological and biblical reflection can come later. What we really need now is thoughtful, pastoral reflection into how we should deal with devastating circumstances like those of this past Friday in Connecticut.
So, out of my own reflection, let me offer the following recommendations on how we should respond to this tragic situation:
- Bring your concerns to God
- In Philippians 4:6-7 (a portion of Scripture you may want to commit to memory), Paul writes these words: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
- There is no anxiety or concern that is out of bounds; there is no situation that is out of bounds
- We should, as I’ve said previously, convert our anguish and anxieties into prayers that we bring to God
- And the Apostle Paul tells us that God’s peace will actually guard our hearts and minds in the midst of our praying
- So, pray for the families who lost loved ones, whether kids or adults
- Pray for those who witnessed the events as they struggle to come to terms with this terrible event
- Pray for the community of Newton, Connecticut, as it reels from these experiences
- In times like these pray your concerns back to God.
2. Ask questions:
- Psalm 13 asks this question: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
- If the Psalms give us permission to ask our questions of angst and concern before God, then we should not be afraid to come to God with our questions
- Asking ‘why’ of God may not give you the answers you always want, but I firmly believe that there is no question you can throw at God that He cannot handle
- Psalm 22 begins with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
- Jesus echoed these words on the Cross, where He took all the anguish of the world upon Himself in His relation to the Father
- In times like these, ask your questions of God
3. Look honestly at our world:
- This world is a beautiful place
- It is amazing to see the tremendous acts of valor that can come from broken place
- In one sense we should not be surprised based on the history of the world
- In another sense, it seems like there are new ways that the evil one gets a hold of lives to bring devastation
- In the face of circumstances like this, we must look honestly at our world
4. Talk About It with Others, especially our Children:
- Talk with others – enter into conversations
- Talk honestly about the situation with our children
- Talk with kids appropriately based on their age
- Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
- Let kids ask their questions and don’t feel that you have to have all the answers
- Address safety plans in houses
5. Do Something About It:
- A lot of people have talked about hugging their kids after an event like this – and that’s a great thing
- But if we are the people of God in this world then we need to do more than that
- Yes, we need to pray, ask our questions, look honestly at the world, and talk with people about the situation but we also need to do something about it
- I have said before that this is not the time for the church of Jesus Christ in North America to fall asleep at the wheel; we need to step forward into the midst of the world
- God saw the beauty and the brokenness of the world with all honesty, but He stepped into the middle of it
- Share the love of Jesus Christ
- Know people
- Reach out do make a difference in family and individual situation’s in your city neighborhood and world
- Pray for your schools – Moms in Touch; BASICS-Oneness Initiative; tutoring at local school, like EBA
When Jesus’ came into the world it was a dark place. John says that Jesus came like a light shining in the darkness that could not be overcome no matter how overshadowing that darkness was.
But in Matthew’s Gospel, the birth and early years of Jesus were marked by gritty realities of the broken world. The magi – those kings and astrologers of the eastern world – came to visit Jesus in his early years but returned home without bringing world to the earth ruler of Israel at that time, Herod the Great. Herod – jealous and proud – was incensed by this and reached out with violence. We read about it in Matthew 2:16-18:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The light came into the gritty darkness of our world. A world stained by violence, sin and evil. And that light – small as a human life – brought light and life, joy and hope, salvation and eternal life to a world that is quaking, shaking, and shuddering for redemption.
May His light and life shine through us. And may the true blessing of God – all His goodness and His greatness – come into our land this season.
Because we deeply need it.