All of us are in saddened and shocked by the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. The latest reports indicate that 19 children and 2 adults were killed by a gunman. In times like this, how should we respond to this tragic situation? Let me offer the following recommendations for us as Christians.
While it may sound trite to some, prayer is the starting point for our response to tragedy. We need to bring our concerns and lament to God. In Philippians 4:6-7 (a portion of Scripture we may all 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, concern, fear, or real-life situation that is out of bounds for prayer. We can and should convert our anguish and anxieties into prayer that we bring to God. The Apostle Paul tells us that as we do this God’s peace will powerfully guard our hearts and minds in the midst of our praying. So, in this situation we should pray for the families who lost loved ones, whether children or adults. We should pray for those who witnessed the activity as they struggle to come to terms with this terrible event. We should pray for the community of Uvalde, Texas, as it reels from these experiences. We should lift our lament to the Lord about why this happened and why violence plagues our world. In times like this it is good to pray our concerns back to God.
In times like these pray your concerns back to God.
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). Throughout the Scripture, but particularly in the Psalms, we see examples of people coming to God in the midst of their confusion and angst. This gives us permission to ask our questions of angst and concern before God as well. We do not need to be afraid to come to God with our questions. Asking ‘why’ of God may not always give us the answers we want, but I firmly believe that there is no question we can throw at God that He cannot handle. Psalm 22 begins with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus quoted these words while hanging on the Cross, where He took all the anguish of the world upon Himself in a way that impacted His relation to the Father. We may feel stress, confusion, and angst when faced with events like this, and we need to give ourselves freedom to bring our questions of God.
Look honestly at our world
The world we enjoy is a beautiful place. We see the beauty in splendor of creation and vast stretches of the universe that we see in the night sky. When we look at our own lives and in the history of the world, it is also amazing to see tremendous acts of bravery and selfless love that can come in the midst of difficult seasons and broken places. At the very same time, cycles of evil and violence continue to grip our world, bringing fresh devastation and pain such as what we see right now. In times of loss or tragedy we need to look honestly at our world, neither turning a blind eye to the beauty and goodness nor ignoring the pain and evil. As Christians we can live in the truth about these things, grappling with them while not living in denial. Jesus Himself said that it was the truth that sets us free (John 8:32).
Talk about it with others, especially our children
One of the most important things we can do during times like this is to talk about it with others, to enter into conversations that help us process through what is happening. This is also true of the children in our lives. It is not helpful to avoid the conversation with our kids because they are hearing about this and probably talking about it with their peers. We need to also talk honestly about the situation with our children in ways that are appropriate for their age. Young children may not be able to have long conversations but may return to the topic again and again. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 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.” We have an opportunity to help our kids grow in their sense of faith, life, and who God is as they grapple with their questions. We should let children ask their questions without always feeling like we must have all the answers. Talking helps us grieve, process, and grow.
Do something about it
A lot of people talk about hugging their children and other loved ones and making the most of every moment after an event like this. That is a great thing and I strongly encourage us to do that. At the same time, as the people of God in this world, we must also 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 that is marked by both beauty and brokenness. Jesus did not step back from an aching world but stepped right into the middle of it. Let’s share the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s get to know people and reach out to people. Step into the public sphere in the name of Jesus to make a difference in the situations of individuals and families, but also in your city, neighborhood, and world. Pray for your schools with other parents or community leaders.
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.