Two recent shootings have evoked a range of emotions from shock to rage to blame to guilt to grief. I get it. This is America! We should be able to go to Walmart or a restaurant or a concert or a movie or a mall or a softball practice or a nightclub or a festival or a church or a synagogue without looking over our shoulders, hoping some crazy person doesn’t pick us out as target practice.
The day after the massacres, I was listening to Christian radio as the hosts were discussing this tragedy, explaining that this is a fallen world and sin is rampant. I wondered if their “catch all” answers, albeit truthful, might come across as insensitive to the immeasurable sadness people feel during times like this. Do we Christians appear uncompassionate when our spiritual clichés ignore the depth of despair caused by such evil acts? If loved ones struggle with God during times like this, do we jump on such opportunities by evangelizing? I pray not.
We of faith know that the “Why’s” of hurting people are not too big for God to handle. Those grieving should be free to question without us pontificating about how Satan causes evil or by throwing out Christian platitudes as a means to dismiss others’ despair. Saying “It must be God’s will” or “God just needed another angel in Heaven” fails to recognize the pain felt by not only those left behind but also our Heavenly Father when evil prevails.
Wrestling with God during these painful times does not prevent Him from being in control, but Him being in control does not negate others’ pain. Lives are now changed because people were in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” Twenty-two died in the Walmart massacre, including a young couple shielding their two-month old baby, a couple married 60 years, buying a blow-up bed for visiting relatives, and a grandfather helping his granddaughter raise money for her soccer team. Today I received word that the sister of an owner where Dave and I live in Mazatlán, Mexico, had just left our complex and driven to El Paso. She was one of those killed. Nine were murdered in the Dayton shooting which involved college students, a young man celebrating his birthday and parents with young children.
Senseless. Sickening. Sin-based. Yes.
What are we to take from this? Pastor/author Rick Warren addressed the best way to handle grieving people in his sermon series following the suicide of his adult son. His advice? “Show up and shut up.” He called it “the ministry of presence” and reminded his congregation that the Biblical story of Job shares that his three friends left their homes to sit in silence with Job for seven days.” Warren’s counsel? “The greater the grief, the fewer words needed.”
Be there, he continued, and don’t wait for an invitation. Find a need and fill it. Warren said that his Muslim neighbor “showed up” every week, mowing his (Warren’s) yard, but saying nothing. Friends came with meals and a hug. No one recited scripture.
So, what’s the Christian to do? After all, we know the Truth, the same Truth that will set us free. Still, I believe that we are to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and unless told otherwise, that means we are to support those hurting by praying, listening, understanding, filling a need…and wait for a later, better time to share about the role of sin in our fallen world.