I was getting ready for a weekend excursion with the family early Friday morning when I heard the news about the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO. Throughout the day, the horror revealed itself to us in bits and pieces as we traveled. I remember my initial feeling being one of deep sadness – a feeling that still persists three days later.
Being away from the computer all weekend, I’m just now getting a chance to share some initial thoughts – thoughts that I’m sure will evolve in the days to come.
First, it’s inevitable that people in my position get asked the hard question: why did God allow this to happen? I very much appreciate one pastor in Aurora who responded in his Sunday sermon today: I don’t know. This is not always the popular answer, as people’s desire for an explanation tends to increase the more inexplainable something is. So much of life can be categorized, understood, processed. Then an Aurora happens; a Hurricane Katrina comes along. And there are simply no answers for things like this, as much as we wish there were.
So, how to respond? Perhaps our first aim is to refrain from manufacturing answers when there aren’t any. To respond to Aurora or other tragedies with cliches like “It was God’s will” or “God has a plan” is like injecting a weak anestesia into a deeper wound – it may take the sting away for a short time, but more than likely it’ll make the pain all the worse. Saying “I don’t know” when there really aren’t answers is perhaps the most authentically faithful response one can give. Contrary to popular opinion, there is in fact room in the Christian faith for doubt, discomfort, anger, unsettledness (re: the Psalms).
Second, we can offer hope. And not a false hope which foolishly suggests everything will be okay, but hope that holds fast to a God who is not distant in trying times. When 9-11 happened and the inevitable question came – where was God – a faithful and accurate response in that context was that God was in the World Trade Towers, God was in the airplanes and the Pentagon. Likewise, on July 20, God was sitting in the front row of a movie theater in Aurora, CO. If the cross tells us anything, it is that God is not watching human tragedy from a distance, but in the very midst of it, right along with those who suffer the most.
And lastly, in the context of this particular tragedy and future ones, we can make it our personal mission to make our focus the victims and not the perpetrator. Certainly there are larger issues which need to be discussed (mental health, gun laws, a culture that celebrates violence, etc), but this is not an occasion to grant one individual the celebrity and attention they so desire. Our focus needs to be elsewhere. One TV clip I did catch over the weekend was CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewing the brother of one of the victims, Jessica Ghawi. Even though he was obviously in shock, he made the network rounds to talk about his sister. He said he wanted the stories of the victims – their lives, their families, their hopes and dreams – to rise above all else. And not just his sister Jessica, but Alexander B., Jonathan, Jesse, Gordon, John, Micayla, Matthew, Veronica, Alex, Alexander T. and Rebecca as well (a list and brief bios of those victims, by the way, can be found HERE).
There are no explanations for senseless acts of violence like what happened last Friday. But there are certainly any number of faithful responses from those who believe in a God who resides at the very heart of human tragedy. In what ways are you choosing to faithfully respond?