Written by Stephen Cox
It happened again.
Last week we woke up to news of another mass shooting in America, as a terrorist murdered and injured over a hundred people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the aftermath, we’ve seen some of the best aspects of humanity: for example, people lining up to give blood for the victims. We’ve also seen some of the worst—as the aftermath turned into an excuse for social media wars over everything from gun control to presidential politics.
The news of such violent atrocities comes to us so regularly nowadays that we may feel numb, helpless to know what to do or say after such events. At least fifty people—created in the image of God—were slaughtered in cold blood. The death of any leads to mourning, whether they were targeted at random or not. But as followers of Christ we can’t simply shut out the pain and despair. How should we respond to such tragic events?
No matter how frequently such tragedies occur, our first response should always be the same: turning to God in prayer.
In the wake of mass violence, a common pattern is emerging among tech-literate, socially connected Christians. Rather than hearing the news and turning to God, we turn first to social media. Even without looking we know the various angles that will be played out (e.g., gun control, the violence of Islam) and want to jump into the fray to join our ‘team’.
As one American Christian has written, “Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common, we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.”
On days like this we may need to guard our heart (Prov. 4:23) and maybe we could take the action of avoiding social media for a while (maybe even altogether). Out of consideration for those who are suffering and in pain we can refrain from engaging in the polemics and adding to the din of divisiveness.
As Christians we are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet in times of tragedy we may be tempted instead to try to explain and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to ‘fix it’ we can forget that there are real people in deep sorrow. People are not taps to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.
To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.
The death of any human should lead to mourning, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator. It is the model that our Saviour has left us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were ‘risky’ for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.
Christians should be the most realistic people on Earth. While we may support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, we must always be quick to admit that the root cause of violence and hate is sin. Such tragedies should cause us to look away from superficial hope to the living hope we have in Jesus. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most high God, who is Sovereign and good, and able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. The Scripture says he was “declared the Son of God with power” (Rom. 1.4). His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.
One day there was a tragedy with a similar story as the one that we have today. Many folks died and the people questioned how they should react to it. Jesus’ answer was amazingly short and profound. He said, “Unless you repent you too will perish” (Luke 13.3).
This is the message in this tragedy. Yes this is horrible. Yes it hurts. But the greater tragedy is to turn away from such things without repenting, or turning from sin.
As the Body of Christ, we can love and serve and weep and mourn. And we can remind ourselves and our neighbours that this is not the way it is supposed to be. We mourn, but we mourn in the hope of a Kingdom where blood is not shed and where bullets never fly.
As the English writer Samuel Johnson once said, people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed. We probably don’t need to be instructed about how to react. We know what to do. We’ve faced this situation before and will face it again all too soon. We just need to be reminded of our call to muster the courage and respond in a way that brings honour to our Saviour.