I had a couple of people tell me that our Sunday School conversation from this past Sunday was meaningful for them, and we had a pretty small group, so I thought I’d share sort of a summary of at least what I said…hopefully it resonates with others.
Last week started off with a report from an outside group that the Southern Baptist Convention had covered up thousands of cases of sexual abuse, many against children and youth, by Baptist ministers over the last several decades…so here’s me being totally and maybe brutally honest – it made me question my decision/calling to be in Youth Ministry. Ultimately, I know this is where I’m supposed to be and this is the work I’m called to do, but I feel like it’s such a black mark on ministry in general when some of the people responsible for the spiritual care of others abuse their position for such despicable acts, and others cover it up or ignore it to retain their own positions of power and influence.
Then the week got worse as the news from Uvalde, Texas started coming out and seemed to get worse by the minute, hour and day. 21 lives taken, 19 of whom were elementary school students and the other two their teachers…so horrific and heartbreaking.
So I spent most of last week somewhere between sad/heartbroken and angry/furious…maybe you teenagers are oblivious to the news, especially the Baptist stuff…but I have a feeling most of you parents are aware of that news, and especially of the school shooting news which is fairly unavoidable.
So how are we supposed to respond to news that angers us, news that breaks our hearts?
I jotted down four ways that I think are a good start, but also, I think God can handle lots of different reactions so this of course isn’t some kind of concrete solution to anything.
First, we trust God in the midst of tragedy. This may be one of the hardest things to do. I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament…in the middle of Job losing everything, God gives a big long speech in which God basically tells Job “I’m God…you’re not.” Seems a harsh response, but it’s a good reminder that even when things seem hopeless and helpless, God is still working. I don’t want to even remotely suggest that God will use the SBC reports of sexual abuse or the school shootings for a good purpose – I think that is bad theology and disrespectful of the families suffering unimaginable grief right now- but I do, deep down, believe that God is still at work in the world and in our lives, as we walk beside, pray for, and help survivors of abuse and families whose lives are now shattered, and as we not only offer prayers for them, but as we put our prayers into action and actively seek to do the gospel work of making the world a better place by exposing and tearing down systems of oppression and violence that lead to such events. As Pastor Brent said in his First Notes this week, it isn’t a choice between “thoughts and prayers” and “action” – it’s both. Prayer works. And prayer leads us to act.
Secondly, I think it’s important to respond by remembering that as we do what I said above in walking with people who are suffering, that Jesus walks with us all through our suffering because of his own. God became like us and suffered a horrible death, yes for salvation and the forgiveness of sins, but also to identify with us and share in our own suffering…so we offer empathy to others because Christ offers to it us. Any time we can offer ourselves as presence in the life of someone suffering, we are sharing Christ with them.
Thirdly, it’s also important to remember the hope we have in the promise that in Jesus Christ, we will one day see a time where death, pain and suffering are no more. Revelation 21:3-4 reads: I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.“
I struggle with that one, especially in the midst of tragedy, because it doesn’t seem like much comfort to those who are grieving so badly in the present, but at the same time, it’s such a beautiful reminder that ultimately, there is hope for a better day, when our suffering will end. Perhaps that tension is part of it all. Regardless, I hope that it may be a small glimmer for someone struggling with something right now, whether it’s the tragedies I’ve mentioned or something more specific to your personal life in the here and now.
Lastly, I think our response to tragedy should be completely honest with God. I think sometimes we worry about offending God with brutal honesty and questions and doubt and anger, but those things show up all throughout scripture, especially the Psalms, and I have to think God is OK with it. We read parts of Psalms 22 and 88 on Sunday and I’d encourage you to read them…they’re Psalms of lamentation and therefore sort of bleak, but a great illustration of the fact that because God wants the whole of us to come before God in prayer, that includes the angry, heartbroken, desperate parts of us.
This turned out way longer than I imagined, but I hope that it is helpful or meaningful to someone, whether you’re as angry or heartbroken as I am about big national news stories, or you’re just dealing with your own personal stuff…I just want everyone to know that sometimes it’s difficult to trust that God is in control and that God ultimately has the final word over death and suffering, and that it’s OK to feel that way. God understands. God is with us. God knows. God feels – God shares in our heartbreak and grief – of that you can put your trust in always.
Blessings to you,