Responding to Tragedy

How do we–how can we–respond to such tragedy as the murder of children and their teachers? How do we even think through such horror? I’m not sure there’s one perfect answer to that question. Rather, I think Jesus shows and teaches us many ways in which we can respond. Here are a few that are running through my head this morning.

  • Pray. Of course prayer must be our first and last action today, so let’s pray. For days like today, the Psalms teach us a form of prayer called lamenting (see Pss. 42 and 60), which is simply grieving in the presence of God. As we lament we can pray for those who mourn, pray for the comfort of the gospel, for the peace that passes understanding.
  • Repent. When we see the sin of murder so graphically displayed, our judgment against it is swift and merciless and absolutely correct. But the voice of the Spirit through the Scriptures would remind us that end of all sin is death and that we are each guilty of murder through our own anger (Mt. 5:22). The sins of others should lead us to find and kill those same sins that continue to reside in our hearts.
  • Study. What more reason do we need to return to God’s Word and study for understanding, study for light and hope? I read on Facebook of several families who took the opportunity to talk through Psalm 10 last night. In my own devotions yesterday I happened to be reading the story of Cain and Abel. There are many other places in God’s Word which give light to our understanding of evil or remind us of God’s justice and the hope of heaven. But it would be easy to let these tragedies slip by without ever opening God’s Word and striving to think God’s thoughts after Him. As you study, sing God’s Psalms together, His given hymnbook that is uniquely suited to worship amidst tragedy.
  • Evangelize. As John Piper so wonderfully wrote yesterday, “Mass murder is why Jesus came into the world the way he did.” While our nation experiences tragedy after tragedy, will we continue to sit on the sidelines and wait for better opportunities to share the hope of the gospel? Perhaps we feel that evangelism at a time like this is distasteful in its opportunism–but that’s only true if we’re sharing propaganda designed to get people into our little club. If evangelism is the sharing of true hope, the shattering of evil’s power at the cross of Christ, the promise of eternal life winning over death…why would we shrink away from bringing to our neighbors, to a nation, who may be a little more open to it today than they were yesterday? Don’t be afraid of the hard questions–God isn’t.
  • Evangelize our children. Parents, let’s stop waiting to bring the gospel to our children daily, faithfully and passionately. Let’s make family worship the priority that it is. And in every Psalm that we sing, every verse that we read, let’s bring Jesus to our children and our children to Jesus that they might be saved. To delay our covenant evangelism is to presume upon God that there will always be another day.
  • Defend. Many have spoken appreciatively of our President’s speech yesterday. It was deeply felt and compassionate. Some of us who appreciated it also long for him to see the hypocrisy of his defense of abortion. Even as he wiped away tears reflecting on the death of children whose lives were in front of them, we couldn’t help but cry aloud for his lack of extending such deep compassion to the millions of children whose lives have also been cut short with the blessing of his administration. May God see fit to extend the President’s compassion to the unborn.
  • Hope. This world is not our home. As beautiful and wonderful as it is, it is a broken shadow of the glory waiting for us. There will be a last time for everything in this broken world. So let’s reset our hope on heaven, let’s re-fix our gaze on Jesus Christ, let’s measure this life by the light of eternity, let’s wait for Jesus to wipe away our tears, let us live in hope.
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  1. Jeff Kessler December 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Jared, thank you for a thoughtful, Christ centered, and pastoral initial response to yesterday’s murders.

    But what next? In addition to continuing to push for repentance and proclaiming the gospel, what should be the response of conservative reformed people in the days and weeks following the funerals? What should be the response to the rants of the anti-gun forces that have already started and will intensify soon? What relevance does the answer to L.C. question 135 have to the debates coming up? Should Reformed and Presbyterian authors, pastors, and leaders be engaged in these debates? Will we be zealous to protect life? I pray so.

    Jeff Kessler

  2. timbloedow December 20, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    I don’t know if this is of any help, but it’s the commentary I wrote up for our latest ChristianGovernance letter sent out tonight:

    I have not had the time to read a great deal of the millions of words of commentary and analysis about this massacre. The dominant themes keep getting repeated, but there might be some points that don’t get much exposure. It wasn’t until the 18th that I saw something about the primary point I made from the outset – the need for “Divorce Control”. This was a reference to the fact that the killer came from a broken home. That is obviously not the sum total of analysis on this incident. Analysts and commentators who ignore this reality, however, or emphasize less important matters – including warehouse schooling and gun ownership – are very shoddy, to say the least.

    Considering the prevalence of illegitimate divorce and deviant family forms, even in the Church, too many Christians are becoming comfortable with this reality. As a result, we are joining non-Christians in thinking that “non-traditional” family forms aren’t the end of the world, and don’t need to be considered a possible causal factor for social deviancy or deviant child behaviour. Thinking like this doesn’t offer a hope of intelligently analysing tragedies like this one in Newtown, Connecticut.

    We won’t provide an exhaustive analysis of this slaughter or of society in light of it. We have several points to make. Reader feedback is most welcome.

    * Many people have said that this incident was irrational. That is a lie. In fact, it’s a contemptible lie. It’s part of the Evolutionist ideology of chance. The atheist worldview FAILS because it can’t provide answers – or it doesn’t want to. The shooter shot his mother in the face, not a neighbour, not a grocery store clerk, not nobody until he got to the school. He shot his mother. There is a reason for that.

    * A sibling to this kind of thinking is Christian commentary that is limited to general comments about sin and human nature. Al Mohler’s piece was like this. Perhaps such commentary has its place, but it is very inadequate on its own. People live their lives in the particulars, not as generalistic beings. We sin particularly. Particular causes have particular and different effects on different people. Remaining at the level of generalities when addressing a tragedy like this feels like little more than a “baptized” expression of the irrationality claim. It’s not a Biblical approach because the Bible deals with all our particulars. We can start by asking, “Why did he shoot his mother – in the face?”

    * Mental illness: cause célèbre or excuse du jour! The main rationale given for this slaughter so far appears to be mental illness. Mankind is a cowardly, blame-shifting, self-deceived mess. The popularity today of the mental illness diagnosis and the medicalization of problems is simply today’s version of this blame-shifting tendency. Christianity teaches us to emphasize sin and personal responsibility regarding our actions. There may be some legitimate mental illness, but almost all our problems are the result of sin, which is personal irresponsibility of one sort or another. Even many Christians don’t see this because we’ve grown up with this blame-shifting mentality all around us, so it seems normal. It’s NOT. Affirmative action reflects this blame-shifting, responsibility-abdicating mentality. So do “positive rights,” which is fundamental to modern human rights theory. So are calls for gun control. So is the social welfare state, with its theft-based subsidization of envy. So is homosexuality and the modern ethic of “socialist sex”. If we lived what was in our hearts, the two most popular consumer items among today’s adults would be soothers and diapers. And this is the mentality that leads so many to turn immediately to mental illness as an explanation for this massacre instead of a Biblical sin/righteousness framework.

    * At ChristianGovernance, we like to say that our understanding of Biblical worldview emphasizes Law and Lordship – the abiding relevance of the Law of God and the Lordship of Christ. I’m told that many people may not appreciate the point made by this language. This incident is a great way to illustrate the point. Most analysis – even that which has been mostly sound, regarding firearms ownership, government schools and family life – has been limited to this horizontal reality of human relationships and issues. There has been practically no discussion of the importance of recognizing and affirming the Lordship of Christ. We have taught ourselves to compartmentalize talk about the Lordship of Christ. At church, we say things such as, “we must love the Giver and not just His gifts.” And we have other similar sayings that make the same point. But when we get into the public square, into politics, into public debate, we abandon this thinking and pretend that we can honour God without explicitly affirming and celebrating the rule of King Jesus over every area of life, including society, culture and civil government. That is indefensible, and we won’t have learned the most important lesson from tragedies like these if we don’t learn to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) in every aspect of our lives, both private and public. That’s what respecting both Law and Lordship means.

    * Tragedies like this are terrible for Atheism and Evolutionism because normal people recognize something outrageous and hideous about such incidents, but genuine atheists/evolutionists have to say, “So what?” The most scandalous atheists, whom you might find in animal rights groups like PETA, are far more consistent when they ask why we aren’t equally disgusted over hunting or over all those bugs you kill with your car while driving in the countryside after dark? People are looking for answers and justice after a slaughter like this, and Atheism and Evolutionism have nothing satisfactory to offer. People might not like Christianity’s answer, but we have one that resonates because it’s true.

    * It has been noted that tragedies far worse than what took place in Newtown are a matter of almost daily and weekly life for children and communities in other parts of the world. Americans, therefore, enjoy a unique luxury of relative peace and justice to be able to feel such outrage when a slaughter like this takes place. This experience is a testimony to God, and to the comprehensive claims of Christ worked out in history and culture through Christendom and the subsequent Protestant Reformation that made it’s way to North America. Many modern Christians do not have a theology of Christendom, so they cannot celebrate this blessing from God in the face of such tragedies, let alone use this understanding to provide another way to point to Christ and healing in response to such misery.

    More could be said in light of this slaughter, and we might say more later, but we’ll leave it at that for now. We would be glad to receive your comments and publish some of them in subsequent issues of our eletter.


  1. Thinking about the massacre in Newtown, CT « Strengthened by Grace - December 15, 2012

    […] Responding to Tragedy by Gentle Reformation: How do we–how can we–respond to such tragedy as the murder of children and their teachers? How do we even think through such horror? I’m not sure there’s one perfect answer to that question. Rather, I think Jesus shows and teaches us many ways in which we can respond. Here are a few that are running through my head this morning. . . . (Click on above link) and sing the song below. . . Be Still my Soul! Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change, He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake To guide the future, as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below. Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart, And all is darkened in the vale of tears, Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart, Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears. Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay From His own fullness all He takes away. Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on When we shall be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last. Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high; Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways, So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye. Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine. […]

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