Tragedy strikes often these days — the 2011 shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona that ended with six dead, the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, where 29 were wounded and 16 killed.
We think back to harrowing murders in the last several years at Columbine High School in Colorado, at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas, just to name a few that come quickly to mind.
Now come the Century Theater shootings in Aurora, Colo. This shooting of 71 people, 12 of whom have died, is among the worst in U.S. history. The awfulness of it is staggering.
In horror, we ponder, “What if my family had been there?” The thought stirs our deepest fears. That is why we ask “why?”
There really are no adequate answers. Even if we learn that a shooter has mental or social problems, that never justifies the actions or comforts us. A gnawing mystery surrounding the tragic and senseless loss remains.
We try to understand evil in our world and why it is so close to our lives. Blame often is laid on schools, mental health institutions, law enforcement, friends, guns and bystanders. Blame rarely changes situations or people; accountability is more likely to bring justice.
Where is God in this horrible event? Why didn’t he prevent it from happening? We try to understand — sometimes falling victim to flawed conclusions.
We live in a world that has been corrupted by the sin of the human race. The apostle Paul described this world as in “bondage to decay,” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:21-22).
The issue is not what God is doing or not doing but rather humankind and what it is doing. God must be disturbed because his once-perfect creation is further marred by the misuse of the freedom he has bestowed on each of us to choose our course in life.
How should we as Christians respond not only to this stunning tragedy but also the many calamities that occur almost daily in our churches, communities and personal lives?
• Lament the awfulness of the tragedy. Nearly a third of the Psalms do this very thing. Express grief and even anger that such horrible events have occurred and seek his guidance in dealing with them.
• Be supportive of all who suffer. Aurora Chief of Police Daniel Oates nearly cried when he spoke of the many people who had brought food to officers and other first responders. Oates said that great community support through such acts of kindness had helped the traumatized workers cope.
Think of nice things to do for people experiencing a tragedy. Say supportive and appreciative things to them. In short, we must show the compassion of Jesus in all that we do and say.
• Don’t try to explain God’s role or motivation. We simply don’t know. And when we try to offer our feeble explanations of God’s actions, we almost certainly will stumble. (These situations do provide an opportunity for thoughtful discussion based on Scripture, however.)
• Maintain faith that God is just. As the saying goes, “God does not settle all of his accounts in December.” Many Scriptures teach that God will bring punishment on those who have tormented the righteous (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Divine justice will come in his time and according to his plan.
• Maintain faith that God is compassionate. He is merciful, and we need to pray for that compassion to wrap every suffering person.
We must also be his hands by demonstrating genuine love and concern for those who are discouraged, wounded and suffering.
• Remember that each of us has the freedom of will that God has granted to us. Let’s determine to use that freedom for good and serve each other and those around us. The world is made up of the acts and decisions made by each of the planet’s 7 billion residents. Let’s do our part to bring love, care and goodness into it.