There shouldn’t be a moment of fear and pain for a parent when you are simply waiting in the drop off line to take your kids to school. I have a beautiful 6 year old boy and a precious ten year old daughter that I dropped off at school this morning. As I said goodbye to them and encouraged them about their day I hid the pain in my gut at watching them leave the safety of my presence. Before we went to school Logan, Sophie and I prayed together as we do each morning. Included in that prayer is something that I pray for every time, “Father, keep Sophie and Logan and their school safe today.” There was a time when keeping them safe at school might not have even been a thought. My prayer may have been just about spelling tests and making friends. But that world has long since passed us by.
Growing up outside of Washington , D.C. in PG County, MD (where we keep it real) violence was a reality. It wasn’t a cause of daily fear, but our high school had gangs. Violence was present there. We had armed police officers that were stationed at our school. Fights broke out. There was a gang related shooting as a bus stop near the school one day. A senior girl (who I believe was a witness to gang activity) disappeared after school one day. There was always the threat that violence between others might spill over into my world. But there wasn’t ever a real concern that I would be the target of the violence.
Then we moved to Denver and worked at a church where a dozen of my youth group students were at Columbine that fateful day. I learned first hand how random evil can be in this world. None of my students were killed that day, but their friends were. They survived by luck, blessing, chance? In Colorado we lived in Aurora not far from the movie theater where the Dark Knight shooting occurred several months ago. It is a theater just like any other. It is just like the one where I sat 15 hours later that same day watching the Dark Knight with my wife.
The difference between our town of Chesterton, IN and Newtown, CT is only that no one has brought a gun to our schools yet. That is it. There was a boy arrested a couple of weeks ago for threatening to bring violence upon the school. Thankfully someone took his threat seriously and did something about it. But that is no guarantee that violence and evil won’t visit my community or yours in the same way that it manifested itself in Newtown on Friday. As a pastor, a Christian, a father, and an American it leaves me with questions and thoughts that are probably still too jumbled to sensibly form a coherent theological statement. But I do want to offer some reflections from my heart today.
President Obama said it well last night as he addressed a pray gathering in Connecticut, ““No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.” Surely we can do better than this indeed. The eruption of violence in situations like this is the result of a multitude of brokenness in our country. There isn’t one thing that can fix this problem, but that doesn’t mean excuse us from trying to do something to fix our nation.
This tragedy is a reminder that mental illness is a huge issue for our country and our world. All of these mass shootings seem to have some connection not just to evil but to mental illness. Sometimes it is ignored, sometimes it is untreated, sometimes it is too powerful to overcome for the people who are trying to help. But mental illness is a problem that we have ignored far too often and its effects are powerful.
Another one of the conversations taking place already is of course about gun control laws. This is a debate I have blogged about before (here and here for instance) and I am sure I will blog about it again. Was this shooting simply the result of gun laws or their absence? No, absolutely not. Is the continued culture of gun violence which is unique to our country a part of the problem? Absolutely, our love of guns and idolatrous worship of guns as a fundamental part of who we are as Americans has to share some of the blame for these continued mass murders. We love violence. We love guns. We entertain ourselves with violence. We make weapons of mass killing readily available. We fight to keep these weapons of mass killing easily available and we wonder why they end up in the hands of those who have been taken over by evil. That is part of the problem. I am no expert on gun laws but I know idolatry when I see it. Would a ban on assault rifles have prevented this slaughter of innocents, however? Unfortunately it probably would not have. If the murderer hadn’t been armed with a semi-automatic rifle would his entry into the locked build have been more difficult? Perhaps, but that isn’t really the issue at hand. I don’t want to turn a horrific personal and community tragedy into a political statement. This is a time for theological statements.
Some have written that violence in school is the result of taking prayer out of schools and somehow taking God out of our schools. That is terrible theology. When do we ever choose for God where he is present? Weren’t God’s children in the building on Friday? Weren’t there Christians in that school? Wasn’t God’s Spirit there? God was present in that school.
Others are asking, where was God and why did God let this happen? That is a difficult question for all of us to answer. We live in a world where evil is real and sin impacts not only the sinner but others. Living in the ripple effects of that sin we ask ourselves why does God tolerate this sin and when is he going to do something about it? In response God speaks lovingly to us as his children and tells that indeed he has done something, he is doing something and he will do something more. During this season of Advent we are reminded that God responded in advance to this moment of evil and the countless others taking place across the world right now as children starve, humans are trafficked, families are broken apart, violence runs rampant, and so many are denied the basics of what they need to live. God responded in advance by being born as God in the flesh. God came and lived among us, born to peasant parents who lived under an oppressive foreign army. He lived among us as one of us and experienced the joy and pains of humanity. Then he took the full effect of all that sin and evil (including the sin we have brought into the world personally) and he bore it on a cross. But evil didn’t get the final say, and Jesus rose again. The Resurrection is God’s triumph over evil. It is the moment when the cycle of violence begetting violence was broken. It was the moment when the Kingdom of God broke through into our world and began to bring God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Our celebration of Christmas is a celebration of God’s response to sin and evil. It is a celebration of the beginning of the end for sin and violence. It is a celebration the birth of a story, a story of the Word of God, that will be completed when Christ comes again. As a people of Advent we look forward with hope for the return of our Lord when God will once and for all respond to evil and bring his judgment on this world. But this judgment is not solely about punishment it is primarily about bringing shalom to creation. Christ’s return is about restoration and redemption.
So as we mourn for these families who have suffered so greatly we also give thanks to God. We give thanks that God is a God who is not immune to suffering. God watched as his own son was murdered at the hands of evil men. We give thanks that God is not a distant God too busy or disinterested to respond to our need. No, our God is a loving Father who is working to make all things right and who is present in the midst of our suffering. Our Father is working through us and in us to make the world a place where his will is done as it is in heaven. God has responded to the evil of this world and God is responding to the evil of this world. God’s response is grace that can forgive all our sins, love that can mend together our brokenness and a righteous King who is bringing a kingdom of justice and righteousness to the earth. Thanks be to God.
There is a great more I could say, but that is more than I intended to write this morning. I am going to go spend more time praying for this community, these families, and our world. I invite you to do the same. May we seek justice in the name of our Father, may we comfort those in pain, speak words of truth in love, and continue to live each day fulfilling that prayer, “Thy kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”