- I wrote the following paragraphs immediately after the Las Vegas massacre in 2017.
- “I went to O’ Frenzy on that weekend with the youth -which if you don’t know what O’ Frenzy is- it is basically just our enormous youth retreat-we literally took 200 kids so this thing is huge and we go to Kelley’s Island- so you can imagine 200 kids secluded on an island in the middle of Lake Erie with tons of room to run around-it’s a wild weekend-and I tend to get very tired. So, I came back and had the day off Monday morning and I slept in wayyy later than I normally do and I woke up at 10 AM! I then did what I do every single morning and I turned to the News pages and I was confronted with the CNN headline which read something like: “50 plus dead in worst mass shooting in U.S. history…” Sadly, I was not surprised by this headline-we live now in the wake of 9/11 and the Columbine Shootings-we literally now know nothing better than the existence of terrible evil. The things that shocked generations before us are normal news for us which is why we do not respond very well emotionally sometimes. We tend to hear about things like Las Vegas and we say something like “That is horrible-prayers and thoughts for the families of the victims-“ but then we get up take a shower, get dressed and go to work and largely it does not affect our days.
- I admit this was my first reaction as well on that Monday morning, but then I made coffee and I sat down and I watched CNN because that is the only news channel I get on my Sling TV APP and I’m too cheap to pay for cable. And over the course of the next hour or so I just listened to the political commentary, and I paid attention to the stories of what happened at that concert on that Sunday night-the stories of people being shot and dying in the arms of loved ones, and a man who had become so deranged that he would sit in his hotel room-point a gun out the window and mow people down like he was playing a video game… I thought about where we are at as a society with people reacting on social media in all kinds of ways-and I can honestly say that Monday morning was the saddest I have EVER been for our country. I was in middle school on 9/11 so didn’t quite understand the astronomical effects of that day at that particular time, but now I am an adult and I am looking at this horrible tragedy and my heart is broken.”
Now, today, April 22nd in 2019 I look at what has happened in Sri Lanka and my heart breaks once again. My heart is broken because it should be broken; all of our hearts should be broken by yet another tragedy. Tragedy had already been fresh in my mind last week because of the anniversary of Columbine. I personally do not believe that the world was ready for what would happen in 1999, and combined with September 11th, 2001. Our society was not prepared for the way in which tragedy would become the norm, and so therefore, we have not been prepared to respond appropriately. We tend to respond to these things by cheaply saying “Isn’t that so terrible,” but we don’t truly ponder what it means that we live in a world so broken down by sin and disobedience to God that 300 people can be massacred by terrorists who targeted Christians because of their faith, and by and large most Americans do not know the people killed, they do not know how to weep with those who weep, and so the majority of Americans just go on with their lives without truly pondering what this sort of blatant hatred and sin means for the world we live in. We don’t hurt as we ought to. We don’t mourn as we ought to. We don’t cry as we ought to. We look at our TV and say to our loved ones, “Oh isn’t that awful!” Then, we hug them closely, turn away and continue to eat our cereal.
But, last week CBS news wrote an article titled, “Columbine school shooting 20 years later: Victims’ families reflect on what has changed and what hasn’t.” In the article, Rick Townsend, who lost his daughter at Columbine said, “It seems like every month, there’s a new tragedy of some kind somewhere around. It just makes you feel sometimes hopeless.” Coni Sanders, who lost her mother at Columbine said something similar, “I feel like we have come so far in so many ways, yet we’re still stuck in the same spot. I never imagined that we would be where we’re at right now, where there are so many mass shootings that we can’t even keep up… It’s just unfathomable that Columbine wasn’t enough.” Think about it, whenever a tragedy did happen before mass media you would learn about it much later on, but Columbine was the beginning of the de-sensitization of our tragedies, because we now literally watch them on entertainment news stations like CNN and Fox. We now can turn our tragedies off and on, just like a movie, heck we can even pause them and come back to them later if we own the right cable TV package. In the article, Sean Graves, who was paralyzed from the attacks said he was a bit excited about the anniversary of Columbine, “I think this year, it’s gonna be different because we’re spreading the word of both hope and positivity, and love and commitment to give back. To me, that would mean a lot more this anniversary to move forward in a positive vibe than anything else.” When I read this I was hit with the fact that Sean is able to say this only after dealing with trauma for the past 20 years, but for the thousands of wounded, and families of the deceased in Sri Lanka, their path forward in dealing with trauma has only just begun.
A woman named Cristina Fox wrote an article back in 2016 and she really captured the questions I was asking after the Las Vegas shooting and I’m sure some of you were too, she wrote “In our fallen world, there is much for us to grieve. There are many things we hear and learn about on a daily basis that leave us bewildered, confused, saddened, crushed and even downright terrified. What is a believer to do? How do we wake up each day to devastating news, to wars and rumors of wars, to heartbreaking stories?” As I read this article I was like “YES! HOW DO I GRIEVE!?” I also thought-“I think a lot of modern people, including myself, we have forgotten not only how we can grieve in a godly way, but also that it is OK to grieve-it is in fact necessary for us to grieve when we are confused, sad, and crushed! I don’t pretend to have all the answers to all the questions people may be asking in the wake of a heinous tragedy, like the one in Sri Lanka this weekend, but I do know the words of Psalm 142, and I do believe they set us on a path forward.
Psalm 142 teaches Christians to lament appropriately. Verses 1 and 2 of this Psalm by David teach us to turn to God, “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord, I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.” Verses 5 and 6 teach us to cry out to God for help, “I cry to you, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!” Verse 3 also teaches us to speak the truth. Verse 3 reads, “When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.” Then notice in verse 5, “I cry to you, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my refuge…” So, David knew the need to speak the truth to himself, and to others when his spirit fainted within himself. David was keenly aware of not only his need to cry out to God, but to do so while speaking the truth. Verse 7 teaches us to trust in God, “Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” So, what does the lament Psalm 142 teach Christians? It teaches us to deal with tragedy, and difficulty, and brokeness, and the results of sin, by turning to God, crying to Him for help, speaking the truth to ourselves and to others, and trusting in the Lord who loves His people.
- In David’s specific context, he remembers all God has done for him up and until this point of his writing Psalm 142, and he remembers the promise from God that He will make David the King of Israel and David then responds in trust. And 1 Samuel actually records for us that God did answer David’s prayer because remember his lament was in verse 4 “there is none who takes notice of me…. No one cares for my soul.” But then he trusts “the righteous will surround me.” And then in 1 Samuel 22:1 “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.” We are told 400 people gathered with David in that cave and eventually these were the men who protected David and who were with him in the midst of all his trouble before he became King of Israel. God didn’t just hear David’ prayer he actually answered it! We know the end result, but David didn’t when he wrote this Psalm-No! He didn’t know the end result just like we don’t know the end result when we are suffering and lamenting to God crying for help. God doesn’t tell us the end result he tells us to trust him. He comforts us by telling us “He is with us always even until the end of the age.” And he gives us the hope of the Gospel by which we are saved from our sins through the work of Jesus, and he gives us the future hope of the day when he will “return from heaven and make our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.” And in the midst of all the confusion and sadness over Las Vegas, and Columbine, and 9/11, and Parkland, and the Orlando Nightclub massacre, and countless other massacres over the past 20 years,and now Sri Lanka, or over our mentally ill loved ones, or over our loss of friendship, or over whatever it is that makes us lament as we live in a world marred by sin against God-WE CAN turn to Him, and cry for help, and speak the truth-God asks us to Trust Him for he is our only refuge and our salvation.
- How do we move forward after Sri Lanka? Well, we shouldn’t really ever be asking that question in the immediate wake of tragedy, but we should recapture what it means to truly lament. We shouldn’t turn tragedy and suffering into entertainment, we shouldn’t politicize it immediately either, and we shouldn’t tweet about it. We should take in all that is and has gone on and we should slowly enable ourselves to turn to God, and we should learn to appropriately cry out to him, and to speak the truth to ourselves and to others as necessary, and we should trust God for refuge and salvation… This doesn’t happen in the matter of hours, or even days, but to truly lament is a process that takes a considerable amount of time. So as American Christians how would we be able to help Sri Lankan brothers and sisters in Christ at this time? By allowing them to lament privately, by lamenting with them, and by supporting their time in lament, as according to Psalm 142. This is going to take some time; this always should take time following any tragedy; because what has happened is not right and there is no easy human fix, which is what makes Good Friday and Easter so unbelievably central to our ability as sinful humans to be able to lament in the right way.