Thus says the LORD:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:15 ESV)
As a father of four young children, it was hard for me to process the horrific news of the Sandy Hook massacre. How could anyone gun down defenseless children? This is a tragedy that defies easy answers, even for those of us who put our hope in Christ. We should resist simple solutions and trite phrases that may contain truth, but end up providing no comfort. In this dark hour, we don't want to be Job's friends.
When evil unveils its ugly face, we must turn to God and bare our souls. Each part of this tragedy finds a God standing ready to hear the cries of the grieving.
"What would possess a man to do this?" To this question, we might point to mental instability, revenge, or some combination of factors. But ultimately, we know that it is evil itself that possesses humans do commit atrocities like this. It is the work of Satan, the author of evil, who has possessed men from the beginning of time to stage acts of gross violence. (John 8:44).
"What kind of world are we living in?" We are living in a broken world. When sin entered the world at the Fall, it did violence to God's original creation. The Fall crushed man's soul, bringing in death and the lust for death. Grieving people reach for all kinds of solutions: tighter gun laws, character training in schools, Ten Commandments in classrooms. Those may be good solutions, but ultimately, the roots of this tragedy go back to a Garden and a rotten piece of fruit. (Romans 5:12)
"I'm angry." And you should be. We all should be. The Christian should mimic the visible anger felt by Jesus when he witnessed the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11). Death is not good. Death is the work of the enemy. Death is the enemy, the last enemy, Jesus came to defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). Every life was created in God's image and death, especially death at a young age, robs man of their full God-given potential. It's not just okay to be angry at this sin, it's a proper response for those who hate evil as God hates it.
"Where is God in This?" God sometimes seems hidden in despair (Job 23:8).And yet we are told that Christ weeps at death (John 11:35). That he knows our every tear (Psalm 56:8). We know we have a God is not immune to our pain and our struggle, but as Christ endured and suffered the very worst of life (Hebrews 4:15). We know that God is "close to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
"Why Would God Allow This?" This is a fair question to ask. And the answer is: we don't know. We won't ever know. We can't know the ways of God. And yet we are invited to ask Him that question, in anger, in fear, in sadness. The Psalmist often asked this very thing of God. Job was candid in His querying of the Heavenly Father. The Bible essentially says that we may never know why God allows what He allows (Isaiah 55:9).
"We need justice." Every murder we see or hear about prompts something deep within our soul: a demand for justice. With a tragedy like Sandy Hook, that feeling is multiplied a thousand-fold. We want to see something done to the person responsible. This longing for justice reflects the heart of God who is a God of justice. Every heinous act of violence is an act against a holy God. A God who won't let crimes go unpunished, whether big or small. And yet true justice can't really be served in our courts. There must be a bigger payday. In one sense that day already came, when God poured out his righteous wrath against evil on His own son. This is why God could not look at his Son, why Jesus was forsaken on the cross. Jesus became the face of all evil. He bore this so sinners like you can me might find peace with God. Those who accept this find peace. Those who reject it will face the wrath of God one day. For perpetrators of these heinous crimes, there is a payday coming that will be swift and severe (Romans 2:5).
"Will the violence ever end?" Year after year, it seems we see more and more violence and bloodshed. We can put more cops on the streets and tighten our laws and affirm moral values. And yet it seems that violence continues, even in seemingly safe American towns like Newport, Connecticut. Will it ever end? The answer is yes. Satan, evil, violence does not have the last word. We are told that the last enemy, death, will be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26). In a sense, it was defeated at the cross, where Christ conquered sin and death and rose victoriously in resurrection. There is coming a day when the King, Jesus, will fully consumate His kingdom, when the beauty and perfection of creation will be restored. When sin will be no more. When all tears will be wiped away and there will be no more death (Rev 21-22).
"What can we do to stop this?" Again, some pin the blame on lax gun laws. Others pin the blame on the lack of the Bible in the schools and a country's embrace of liberal values. Others will call for increased mental health screening and assistance. All of these are good measures. But ultimately, we are powerless against evil, because we as fallen creatures are poisoned by this very evil. Though we should do all we can to prevent such senseless acts of brutality, we are limited as humans in our ability to combat violence. The only hope is in the baby who arrived on Christmas Day, into a world of violence and bloodshed (Matthew 2). Herod, a jealous king, ruthlessly killed thousands of infant boys in a quest to kill Jesus. It was a fulfillment of God's prediction in Genesis 3:15 of the cosmic battle between God and Satan, played out in the human race. and yet it was that very baby Jesus, the God-man, who entered this world for the very purpose of defeating the curse, defeating death and evil, and bringing about hope. The hope for mankind is not to go back to a perceived golden era or to embrace progress. Every generation is is cursed. Jesus labeled his generation "a wicked and perverse generation" (Matthew 17:17. Paul labeled his generation, "crooked and perverse" (Philippines 2:15). The only golden era was in Eden and our sin cast us out. The only utopia is the city for which we long, whose "builder and maker is God." (Hebrews 11:10)
"Is there any hope?" When a gunman randomly and mercilessly robs 20 children of their lives, it's hard to imagine any hope in the world. We live in perhaps the wealthiest, safest, most prosperous nation on earth and yet this violence and evil penetrate even here. And yet in the gospel story we find hope. Hope not just in that our sins were nailed to Jesus' cross and that we find peace with God. But we also have hope that Christ defeated death and in the resurrection there will be new life. Life as it should be, as it was meant to me. There is hope in knowing that Christ is coming back one day to restore all things, to fix what we cannot fix and to establish His kingdom forever.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
- Edward Mote