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Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
It is hard to know how to best respond to the ongoing tragedies in our country and world. On May 24th, an 18-year-old gunman tragically took the lives of 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX. Despite the horror of that day, it was sadly just another in a long line of mass shootings. And despite the tragedy of these mass shootings, they are only part of a larger spike recently in our country of “deaths of despair,” including suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths. And, if that is not depressing enough, a survey of the global scene shows the continued ravages of war, poverty, slavery, and other atrocities.
How are we to respond as Christians? Recently I was speaking with a school counselor about the effects of Uvalde on her students, and she expressed surprise that it didn’t seem to be affecting them much. She shared that many kids just seem numb to the reality, since these tragedies have become so commonplace. On the other extreme, some of us can easily become emotionally entangled with coverage of these tragedies online or on TV, becoming overwhelmed by the devastation and overprotective of our loved ones. And somewhere in the middle are the people who are furious at our politicians for not doing something about gun control or support for those with mental health issues, who try to bring some kind of good out of a senseless tragedy.
As Christians, I believe the first place God gives us to start is with lament. Lament is a “prayer in pain that leads to trust,” as Mark Vroegop writes in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. Lament involves four movements: turn to God, voice your complaint, ask boldly, and choose to trust. Roughly a third of the Bibles 150 Psalms are laments, precisely because there has ALWAYS been tragedy, suffering, and evil in this world, and because no amount of laws or programs are going to remedy that. While I understand why many people get angry at the “thoughts and prayers” that are often offered in response to tragedy, the reality is that if the primary problem is not gun control but the evil in the human heart, then crying out to God is the most appropriate first response. And since nothing can bring back the one who was killed, the most appropriate response is also to ask the God of comfort to bring peace to those who are in mourning, and, if we are given the opportunity, to mourn with those who mourn.
There is certainly a need for examining and reforming gun laws, and there is certainly a need to evaluate how we are doing with supporting troubled adolescents or those with mental illness. But for those caught between the extremes of going numb in the face of another tragedy and becoming overwhelmed by the suffering, the primary answer is found in lament. In that spirit, please join me in prayer as we turn to God, voice our complaint, ask boldly, and choose to trust:
Our great and good God, we turn to You in our frustration, our anger, and our sadness. We are so tired of the evil in this world, so saddened by watching more families and communities dealing with terrible heartache and loss. We are coming to you now because we have seen how incapable we are of stemming the tide of evil that continues to flow out of the human heart. We need your help in this time of chaos and confusion.
How long, O Lord? How long must we continue to bury our children? How long will politicians prioritize money and approval rates over people’s lives? How long will young men and women suffer with meaninglessness, hopelessness, and rage without finding a reason to live? Why do you stand far off and allow this evil to happen to those you love so much? Why will you not pour out your love, your grace, and your hope?
Father God, we want to see an end to the violence and madness. We ask that you would transform hearts. We ask you to bring hope to the hopeless, to reveal yourself and your love to those who have hatred in their hearts. We pray that our politicians would have the wisdom and courage to make a way to protect our children and communities. We ask you to minister your comfort to those who are mourning, and to do what you have promised, to work everything for good for those who love you. And if any of this increase in violence is part of your judgment on our nation because of how we have turned from you, please reveal to us where we have gone astray so that we might repent of our sin. Lord, help your church to be the first responders of love, mercy, and justice.
Lord, we declare again our trust in you. We will not put our trust in politicians or community leaders. We do not put our trust in human institutions. We do not even trust our own hearts, for we see the wickedness that resides within. We turn to you in this moment of grief, and we cry out to you for help, for mercy, for justice. Bring us to our knees in repentance and trust, and bring revival to our land, that your kingdom might come, and your will might be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
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