Our desire is for easy answers that immediately satisfy. In twenty-plus years of ministry and fifty years of life I have learned that easy answers are rare and rarely satisfy. Trying to come to terms with a 20-year-old who would shoot his mother and then go to an elementary school and intentionally slaughter twenty children and six adults is, quite frankly, beyond my comprehension. I have had similar bewilderment when faced with the Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech shootings.
I have heard various talking heads, so-called experts, politicians and law enforcement officers provide their input. There will be time to debate gun laws, school safety, mental illness, and violent video games; now it is time to grieve for the dead and pray for the grieving families – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and grandparents whose days can never be the same and who feel what must seem like an eternal emptiness. As you pray, take a moment to lift of the pastors, priests, and counselors who will be called upon to speak into this intense pain and shock. Pray also for the emergency personnel who responded to the site who will never be able to erase the images from their minds.
When I first heard that children had been shot, it was stunning. When I later discovered that twenty precious little ones had been mercilessly killed, it was sickening. My mind went immediately to the words of the prophet Jeremiah quoted in Matthew’s gospel following the Herod’s slaughter of the children in Bethlehem: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
That is precisely how those parents feel. Their children are no more. They will not hold them or feel their kisses or read them bedtime stories. Their lives are radically changed. Their dreams have evaporated. Their hearts have been ripped open. Their tears flow from a bottomless well of grief.
In the days to come we will hear more facts, more details, and more speculation. Within a week or so we will likely have an explanation as to why Adam Lanza became a mass murderer. What we can know now is that evil is real, and this very real evil is not always isolated to homicide bombers in Afghanistan. It showed itself in a paranoid king two millennia ago. It showed itself again yesterday in the hallways and classrooms of an elementary school in a peaceful New England town. And no matter what laws we pass or preventative methods we take, it will reveal itself again in ways big and small.
How do we as followers of Jesus respond to this? We begin by hurting with those who hurt. We cannot afford to become callous to the pain in the world around us. We pray fervently for God’s comfort on all those involved. We also work to overcome evil with good. We cannot “fix” this broken world, but we can carry the love and hope found in Jesus beyond the walls of our churches and into the streets of our towns and cities.
Depravity and evil will be here until Jesus returns, but the church will be here, too. Evil will exert its influence. The church must exert Christ’s influence in our homes, our schools, and our communities. We dare not deny evil or simply attempt to hide from it. We must light our candle in the darkness. Consider these words from Paul:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)