As mothers we are full of grief and mourning for the families who have lost loved ones and precious children in the Newtown tragedy. We have no words. We look and are appalled and lay our hands over our mouths (Job 21:5).
Two days ago, although it seems like a lot longer, our nation experienced an unspeakable tragedy, perhaps one of our greatest tragedies, certainly in my lifetime, in the shootings that took place at the elementary school in Newtown, CT. Over the past few days I’ve experienced what I’m sure we all have: a barrage of news and updates and images and interviews and condolences and speculations about what can only be described as a horrific tragedy. I’m sure we have all experienced, to different degrees, a range of emotions from grief and sadness and revulsion and mourning. And as we come in this morning as the church, as the people of God, beyond our own personal experiences, beyond what we would say here, this is also a national tragedy. As a nation we are mourning, as a nation we are grieving, as a nation we are grappling with these events. And it’s right, it is good for us to do that. It is right for us to share in national grief as people that God has placed in this country. That’s good, that’s right. But as Christians we are even more fundamentally, as Paul has reminded us in the letter we have been studying, we are citizens of heaven. We are those who have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so as we absorb and process these events it is important that that citizenship inform the way that we process, inform the way that we interpret, inform the way that we respond. And so we as pastors want to take just a moment to think with you about that. How do we respond? How do we process? What perspective does Scripture give us in a moment like this? And it is critical to ask those questions, because we are and will continue to be immersed in a national conversation. We are and will continue to be barraged with an array of interpretations from media to mental health experts to politicians and to those that we interact with daily, neighbors and friends and coworkers.
Scripture first informs our response. Our first response, in a moment like this, is appropriately grief. We grieve. We grieve with those who grieve. That is not just a Christian response, that’s a human response. As we see a nation grieving, we are beholding the image of God in people. When we see people who wouldn’t be Christians showing compassion, that’s the image of God in them, marks of God’s image, and we share that. As Christians we don’t only share that, we have even more reason to grieve with others and to sympathize with others, as we demonstrate God’s heart to others. Being Christians doesn’t immunize us from grief, being Christians empowers us to grieve authentically, and to grieve truly with those who grieve, to grieve at the presence of evil and sin, to reflect true compassion to others, to reflect God’s own heart to others. So Scripture informs our response. We grieve.
Scripture also informs our interpretation. Everywhere, every news channel: “Why?” How do we interpret what just happened in our nation? It was evil. Pure and simple. It was evil. Christians don’t have to flinch from that. Christians don’t have to fudge on that. Christians don’t have to spiritualize that. This was unspeakably evil. It was horrifically sinful. This was a profound violation of God’s law and completely contrary to his heart. We know that. We say that. And Scripture helps us further. Although this was evil, and although it was shocking, it’s not surprising. The unregenerate human heart, in rebellion against God, is as Jeremiah reminds us in chapter 17, desperately sick. “Who can understand it?” the prophet says. It’s beyond comprehension. And it is marvelous mercy that God in his common grace—through conscience, through law, through providence—restrains our sin so that this kind of thing is not common. But the fallen human heart is capable of much evil. So we are not surprised. Over the next days and weeks experts on TV will speculate about causes and offer explanations, none of which are going to be fully satisfying, none of which will provide authentic answers. This was an evil act and people get that. Evil cries out for an answer. People everywhere are grappling for an answer. But the only true answer will not be found in analysis. The only true answer is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s not a cliché. On that cross, in an act of unspeakable evil, the murder of the sinless Son of God—in that act, God defeated evil by taking sins of rebellion, our sins, upon himself, by absorbing God’s just wrath against heinous sins, against all that would defile God’s good creation. So scripture helps us interpret.
Finally, Scripture opens our eyes to the opportunity that this is. National crisis like this provide Christians an opportunity to do what we are called to do—to bear witness to the truth. Not in a glib way, not in a dispassionate way that is unaffected by grief, and certainly not in a self-righteous way. But as we grieve, as we mourn the loss of life, we don’t do so without hope. There is an answer to evil. And it is the cross of Christ, Christ who came to put away evil and to set all things right. To bring as the prophets say, the righteousness of God. To set all things right. A righteous God, only a righteous God, can render judgment for acts like we beheld this week. Only he can ensure justice. And not only can God bring justice, he can restore. He only can heal, he only can set right. And so because of the cross of Christ, all of us, who if we are honest, we know we fall short of righteousness, we have an offer of forgiveness from a righteous God who came to remove our unrighteousness. And we have a Savior who came not just to judge, not just to forgive, but to redeem, to set right. There is mercy and grace and healing for all who believe in Jesus. And as tragic as these killings were, Christ’s power is even greater than the tragedy, even greater than the evil, even greater than the anguish. Ultimately, that’s where our hope as Christians lies. We long for answers that will satisfy, but we long in vain. Because God doesn’t give us precise answers. But what he does do, just as he did to Job, he offers himself. He has revealed to us in Scripture, and preeminently in his Son, he has revealed to us his character. And so we don’t know why this happened, but we do know that he is here and that he is good and that he is wise and that the is powerful and he is at work in the most horrific circumstances. He’s at work to bring about his redeeming, restoring, saving purposes. So we are going to take a moment now to pray that God’s hand would be at work in these circumstances and those affected by them. So pray with me.
“Heavenly father, in our weakness, and in our helplessness, we come to you in your all-sufficiency and your grace. Lord, in the wake of this tragedy, our hearts are deeply grieved, even from a distance. Our sensibilities are overwhelmed, Lord our nation is mourning. And so Lord, we pray, we pray for your mercy. We pray for abundant mercy to be poured out, Lord, especially on the parents and the families of those children and those adults. Lord we can’t imagine. But you can. Lord we have no words and we have no power, but Lord you have the words of life and you have all power. Lord, your word says you are near to the brokenhearted, and so Lord draw near we pray to those whose hearts have been broken and whose lives have been shattered. For those who know you, draw near as their Shepherd who comforts and restores. Lord, for those who don’t know you, draw near to reveal your mercy and your grace. Lord, for pastors and Christians who are there, in CT and connected to this tragedy, give them great compassion and great wisdom and great power to minister your love and represent your heart to this community. Lord, it is like a great wound has been opened in the soul of our country. Lord, bind up that wound in the way that only you can. In the midst of the national conversation and the speculation and all the recrimination, bring into all of this your grace, open our hearts to your perspective, open our lives to your gospel. Have mercy on us as a country. Lord, we don’t know, I don’t know all the ways to pray, but we do pray that you would be at work and active in every circumstance, in every conversation, personal and national. Be at work Lord. Father we can only pray that your gospel would be on the move. That hearts would be opened to your reality, eyes would be opened to your holiness, lives will be opened to your grace, to your gospel. Cause people to turn to you as the only answer to our questions, Lord, the only remedy to a tragedy like this. Let your gospel of grace rule and reign in circumstances, in hearts, in that community, and in our nation. Lord, you are the sovereign God, great and mighty and wise to use the greatest evil for your own sovereign and good and redeeming purposes. That’s who you are, Lord. So do that in these circumstances, for the good of all of those so deeply affected, for the good of our nation, for the spread of your gospel, and ultimately for the glory of your name. We pray all of this in Jesus name, Amen.”