Last night’s shooting in Aurora leaves us vacillating in our souls between numbness and horror, and grasping for meaning; for we are “meaning makers”, we human beings, and so it is that “senseless tragedy” is particularly hard for us to swallow. We feel that something must be done or said to put it all in perspective.
And it is just there that we are likely to go wrong, for the wise writer of Ecclesiastes says:
What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. (Eccl 1:15)
Not everything that happens “under the sun” simply “fits” the way we’d like it to. With that in mind, let me make five suggestions for responding to this (and any) tragedy:
1) Resist the temptation to spout theological platitudes. This is all part of God’s perfect plan… God has a purpose in this… Everything works together for good for those who love God… Everything happens for a reason… Fools blather on in the face of tragedy; wise people watch their mouths, and few things in life are more harmful or insensitive than the bloviating of foolish armchair theologians when life hits the fan. Enough. Be silent.
2) Resist the temptation (for now) to engage in social analysis. People with particular social and political agendas will be out in full force shortly, using tragedy as a platform to push their agenda. Gun control, the presence of violence in entertainment, the moral erosion of America… And on and on it will go. I said a moment ago that few things are more harmful or insensitive in such times as theological bloviating. One thing that comes pretty close is political or social opportunism. Stop it. There will be a time and place for such conversations; now is not the time. And in any event, we should remember the Teacher’s words quoted above: “What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” These things tend to defy our comprehension, so when the analysis begins, let it be chastened with humility.
3) Resist the temptation to demonize the perpetrator. #1 and #2 usually collide with a collective demonization of the perpetrator in society’s eyes. Christians should be smarter than to do that, for we know that the stain of sin touches all of us and therefore all of us are equally objects of Christ’s redeeming work – the very same Christ of whom St. Matthew says, “A bruised reed he will not break; and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt 12:20). Our prayer should be that whatever good is left in the perpetrator would somehow be blown into flame not in spite of but THROUGH the punishment he is likely to receive. A chastisement that brings about “shalom” in him.
And then of course…
4) We pray. We stand with everyone affected by this horrible tragedy as though we ourselves were directly affected by it. We pray comfort for the newly bereaved and health and healing for those injured. We pray that evil would be turned to good, and that Aurora and the greater Denver area would become stronger through what has transpired. We pray that evil in every way would be defused, and that peace would reign. We pray.
5) We determine to enter the story with those affected, however we can. One thing that stands out about the life of Jesus is his categorical determination not to analyze pain but to enter it with those who suffer, bringing his light, life, and redemption. We are his Body. Let us also do the same.
Praying grace and peace to the citizens of Aurora and all whose lives have been touched by this tragedy. Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy… even as we put our hope in you.
[UPDATE: Two things I should add real quick – 1) Remember not to be passive recipients of the “discussion” but shapers of it. One practical way you can do that is by refusing to read or re-post articles, etc., that violate #s 1-3 above. 2) The irony of writing a blog telling people to hold their tongues and not use tragedy for self- or cause- promotion is not lost on me. For that reason I’ve disabled comments on this post and won’t be checking it for the rest of the day. Feel free to repost if this if you find it helpful, but let’s not add to the noise.]