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How to Find Hope in Violent Times

According to this morning's New York Times, the FBI is treating the attack in San Bernardino as a possible terrorism case. Tragically, the massacre in California wasn't the only shooting of the day. A gunman in Savannah, Georgia shot four people early Wednesday, killing a woman and injuring three men. According to The Washington Post, in the U.S. this year there have been 355 mass shootings (defined as a shooting with four or more victims, including the shooter).


We face two competing narratives this morning, each of which will paralyze and polarize us. One mistake is to accept nearly daily shootings as the "new normal." In an age of expanding jihadism, violent video games and media, economic unrest and racial tensions, we should expect to see more violence, we're told. But when something terrible becomes "normal," we accept what we should try as hard as possible to change.


The other mistake is to become terrorized by these events, living in a perpetual state of fear. After the San Bernardino shootings, The New York Times invited readers to respond online about their fear of a mass shooting. More than 5,000 wrote in. Reporters interviewed many others around the country on Thursday. The results were troubling.


Army veterans confided that they felt safer in war zones than on the streets of America. People spoke of being spooked by gestures they once considered normal—a man looking at his watch or a woman reaching into her purse. After the movie shooting in Aurora, one man said he watches movies only at home.


A psychologist noted, "Everybody is filled with what we sometimes refer to as anticipatory anxiety—worrying about something that is not currently happening in our lives but could happen. And they are worrying that the randomness of it, which on one hand makes the odds of something happening to them very small, that randomness also makes it possible to happen to them."


That's it exactly. If something could happen anywhere, it could happen here. How do we find hope in such a world as this? By not seeking hope in such a world as this.


"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). Paul elaborates: "Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2).


Choose to be ready for eternity—today. When the worst that can happen to you leads to the best that can happen to you, fear is vanquished and hope reigns supreme. 


Henri Nouwen: "It is important to nurture constantly the life of the Spirit of Jesus—which is the eternal life—that is already in us. . . . The sacramental life and life with the Word of God gradually make us ready to let go of our mortal bodies and receive the mantle of immortality. Thus death is not the enemy who puts an end to everything but the friend who takes us by the hand and leads us into the Kingdom of eternal love."


The old hymn asks, "O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There's light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!" Here's the refrain, and God's invitation to us today: "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace."



Publication date: December 4, 2015


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