We know we live in an uncertain and violent world. There are well intended people that make bad choices that hurt others. There are people who hurt others on purpose. There are heroes who put their lives on the line to keep others safe, and heroes that rise to the occasion without training or uniform that come to the aid of others during such tragedies. In the midst of these realities, innocent lives are taken.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Columbine High School, Colorado
September 11. New York, Washington D.C, Pennsylvania
Fort Hood, Texas
And now, Tucson, Arizona
These are five of many tragedies that scream for the innocent affected by violence. Under the backdrop of these horrible events that affect our people are countless others, in countries far and near where tyrants rage, where non-combatants are wounded or killed, where militant warlords remain on the loose, where those still recovering from hurricane, earthquake, or ongoing hunger fade to the back of our consciousness. These big events also overshadow violence on our city streets, on the airwaves of all political persuasions, domestic abuse behind closed doors, and fear within our schools, just to name a few.
I was in seminary on September 11, 2001. At the time I was linked with the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota. Like many faith communities across our land, a special service was held in the horrible aftermath of that day. LCM’s service that night struck me as particularly odd and unfulfilling. There was the bewilderment of what had happened, there was uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and deep loss. We sang some hymns. We read some psalms aloud. We prayed prayers of lament and heartache. But there was no sermon, no words of assurance, no conviction that God could speak to such tragedy. I think the leaders thought that what was needed at the time was the opportunity to express our grief, and in the coming weeks we could be assured by the promises of God. Instead what was communicated was silence, God’s silence. Which is another tragedy in itself.
As people of faith who know the tragedies of our own lives, we speak to hope, assurance, and the power of God to lift us up out of the deep pit of despair. It is not that we are perfect, or better, or know all the answers – far from it. But we can, and are called to speak in the midst of tragedy. Out of Israel’s demise and the destruction came Jeremiah’s amazing assurance, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22). Out of death Jesus spoke from his tears, “Lazarus come out” (John 11:43) Out of his own formidable grave came a chorus of angels and those who gave witness to their risen Lord when all seemed lost.
God has placed us among others to be his voice. Sometimes it is in the day to day activities we take for granted – going to work or school or the grocery store, and we feel a bit awkward about it. Sometimes it is in the midst of national tragedy; like this week’s shooting in Tucson. Maybe it’s closer to home amidst a horrible accident where a snowplow took the life of an expectant mother this past week. Maybe it’s amidst another treatment where the burden seems heavier each day. Maybe it is embracing a family member at the death of a loved one or in the tears of a relationship that comes to an end.
God is not silent. God calls you and I as his voice. Not to be perfect. Not to know all the answers. Not to seek blame or vengeance, but to speak of the peace that the world cannot give (John 14:25-27). An honest approach may be to say, “I don’t know why there is such suffering in the world. I don’t know why people are full of such hate, violence and destruction. I don’t know why the innocent die. But I do know that God will not forsake us. Easter shows me that.”
Be of good courage and of good cheer. People long for a word of hope while they struggle and are in pain. By the Spirit’s aid you are up for the task. If you don’t know what to say…say this, “Peace be with you.”
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us – who was raised to life for us! – is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (Romans 8:31-39 – The Message)