Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fire at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on Sept. 6, 2011, when a gunman opened fire at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.
Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and even churches without the fear of violence.
The reality is that we have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: Why?
How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen?”
Perhaps there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion, our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “why?” In his divine nature and his role as creator and sustainer, he can and will reveal to those searching how he was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.
God’s word is very clear on how his people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Jesus taught: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for his hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life.
Psalm 34:18 declares that the “Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need he will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and he is at work — just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its effects!
So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student — we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the holy word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for he has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in him.
We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and his ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)
Nick Emery is the senior pastor at Good Shepherd Wesleyan Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.