The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut is not the first great tragedy we have known, nor, sadly, is it likely to be the last. It is, however, a fresh wound to our hearts and another reminder of how fragile, precious, and uncertain life really is. It is a weight that sits heavy on our heart and leaves us shell-shocked, dazed, and confused. Where is God in all of this? Where is the joy of the Lord, for if this is our strength then we are weak and wobbly indeed.
These things ought not make sense to us. We should not be able to reconcile the senseless murder of innocents. This should sicken us; it should anger us. The image of God in us should hate this with unquenchable passion for it is contrary to all that gives us life and joy. It ought to sadden us deeply and move us to mourn with those who have lost so much. It ought to compel us to seek justice. All of these emotions are called grief, and it is part of a healing process through which we all must go through at varying degrees. As those who hope in God we grieve deeply, but not as those who have no hope.
The tragedy is stunning. With all the media outlets and input it is so easy to get saturated in the tragedy that we fail to see the good. Good? Yes. It’s okay to say it. There is good in the midst of this horror. The love, compassion, and acts of service that flow from the hearts of family friends, and neighbors; the prayers of the saints across the country – across the world – as they lift up the broken and hurting to our heavenly Father and awaken to the great need still in our world. There is good happening, and we can’t afford to miss it, or dismiss it. Families, long broken over petty disputes, are brought together and relationships long-lost are healed. Parents in places far away from the event itself are led to re-think their relationship with their own children. Workaholic dads begin to shift their values and priorities. Good can come from tragedy.
In the book of Revelation we are given the picture of four horsemen, often called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The second of these angelic beings rides a red horse and is given power to make men slay each other. We are told by Jesus in Matthew 24 that there will be wars, fighting, and false prophets; that “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). That time is now. We are seeing this unfold before us. There is a message of hope, though. Revelation 7 gives a picture of a great multitude before the throne of God, redeemed and worshiping God. These are those who have come to know salvation out of the great tribulation. Out of the tragedy and horror that surrounds us, whether it is God’s righteous judgment or the rampant wickedness of men and demons, there comes salvation for many. We must remember that God is faithful and victory is secure in Christ Jesus and our temporal suffering will result in eternal joy as we turn our hurt and our hearts to Him. This is the message our lives must communicate.
We are told in Hebrews 12 that “for the joy set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, scorned its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of majesty.” There was no joy in his arrest, beatings, crucifixion, and death. God takes no delight in temporal suffering. It was what was to come that enabled him to persevere and overcome. There is good and joy to be had here and now. Do not lose sight of it. In fact, hang on to it, especially in times like this. Remember also that, “our light and momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
“Light and momentary”?? It may seem calloused to use this language, but this phrase was written by a man who has been imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned to death (literally), beaten, and who had seen friends and known saints martyred for their faith in Jesus. Compared to my daily struggles the Newtown tragedy and those like it are anything but “light and momentary.” By our temporal measurement, these are monumental. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, need to remember what we have been given. The children who were lost are in the presence of Jesus. They are not lost to him, they are perfected in him. Such loss is only hard for those of us left behind. Remember what we are given in Christ. If you believe in eternal life in Jesus Christ then you must respond to such events as though you do. The world needs what you have to offer in Jesus.
It seems that followers of Jesus can be lulled to sleep and numbed in spirit by “the daily grind.” We lose sight of Jesus amid all the trappings of life and simply try to include him in our daily lives as it seems convenient or absolutely necessary. When our faith is tested we are not ready for it because we have lost sight of Jesus. The wind and the waves overwhelm us because we have taken the focus of our lives – our heart, soul, mind, and strength – off of Jesus. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you” (Psalm 51:12-13). We need the joy of our salvation restored to us so that we can share that joy with those in need. People of God, I urge you to rediscover Jesus; remember what you have been given at such great cost. As the apostle Paul counseled young TImothy in his ministry, we also must “keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In other words, think clearly and look to God, persevere in hope because you know the One in whom you have believed, be ready to share Jesus with those who need (tract not necessary), and be ready to serve in the opportunities God provides.
Where the people of God are, there is the church…and there is God himself. He does not need “two or three gathered,” he is with each one of us always. You are given in the Holy Spirit who lives in you every gift you will ever need to “fulfill your ministry.” Tragedy is a reminder that we are at war, and that our enemy is heartless, ruthless, and active. Let your grief compel you to act: to “hate what is evil and cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). All the tears and tragedy are doors through which the broken, the hurting, the wounded, and the weary can come to Jesus and find rest, peace, and even eternal joy in the very presence of God.