Dear CRC Family,
Friday was a shocking and sad day for our nation and particularly for our New England community. For many of us the event in Newtown, CT hit too close to home. Two current CRC members have family members who live in and around this area, some of whom attended Sandy Hook School (all are safe). I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others that you and I know.
For many of us, especially those of us with school age children, the news of the school shooting can be quite unnerving. How would the gospel call us to respond? What is the gospel way of processing an event like this? Allow me to offer some somewhat off-the-cuff thoughts that you may find comforting and helpful.
LET THEM SEE YOUR TEARS AND TENDERNESS
This is a fallen world and we are fallen people. The only reasonable response when the proof of this falleness is thrust in our face is to weep. It is okay for your kids to see you weep over such a tragedy. It is a very human response and kids need to see us as “real”. After all, even Jesus wept in the face of death (John 11:35).
Similarly, let them know your tenderness, especially toward them. Give your kids a hug. Tell them that you love them. Tell them how special they are to you. Children need to know they are loved.
TALK TO YOUR KIDS
I don’t think that you should necessarily go out of your way to stir up discussion on these matters, but neither do I think it wise to shelter your kids from the reality of the fallen world; I don’t think that you can. If your children have questions, answer them. Certainly, be wary of sitting them in front of the television to watch endless coverage of this or any other tragedy (I don’t think that this is good for anyone, even us adults!!!). If they are old enough, they know (or will find out). Therefore, you need to answer questions that calm their mind and quiet their fears. Don’t pretend as if nothing has happened. As a rule the older the child the greater the level of explanation and detail—and perhaps the greater the need for you to broach the topic, to open the conversation. Take advantage of the teachable moment.
LET THEM SEE YOUR UNSHAKEABLE HOPE IN THE FACE OF SIN AND DEATH
Though as I said above our kids need to see us weep, it is not helpful for them to see us weep without hope. Many of our kids (those old enough to have any substantive cognition of what happened) are troubled by this news. They may feel unsafe, anxious, maybe even afraid to return to school. Our anxiety and fears would only help to fuel this anxiety, and that would not be helpful. Playing into these fears can even become crippling. This is not walking in faith.
So how do we weep but still find hope? The gospel! The gospel of Christ is the only thing that I know that truly gives us substantive ground to weep but still live in hope. Let me tease this out.
The gospel tells us that this is a sad and fallen world. It is not the way it is supposed to be. Bad things happen. Very bad things happen. And absolutely horrific things happen! As Christians we do not need to pretend that this is not so. Of all people, Christians know this to be true. As Paul put it in Romans 8, quoting Psalm 44:
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
This is reality. In this world of sin, none of us makes it out alive. Not one. How despairing!!! But it is against this backdrop that we have arguably the most powerfully encouraging statement in the entire Bible. And the greatness of its hope is proportional to the degree that it faces the reality of our human predicament. The very next verses say:
“37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
~ Romans 8:37-39
We can face this real ugliness without despair, because we know there is more to the story. We have a confident hope.
Certainly, we know that God can bring good out of the bad. To know this is helpful. But our hope is bigger and more cosmic. We believe in the very reversal of death, because in principle it has already happened. Though we live in a world dominated by the destructive wake of the First Adam, the good news is that New Adam has already been raised (1 Corinthians 15). And through faith, we are in Him. This is the reason that we can have such hope. With the Apostle Paul we can taunt death itself, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15)
Do not be shy about directing your children to this hope and calling them to the confident faith that comes from calling on God in Christ. But more fundamentally, make sure that your own heart is being “built on nothing less”. Make sure you believe the gospel for yourself, and are not being driven to an unhealthy fear or an ambiguous anxiety. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” What else could we possibly fear?
Nothing is more reassuring to your kids than for them to know that you are not afraid. They will tend to follow your lead. If you act in fear and anxiety, they will act in fear and anxiety. If you react in compassion and hope, so will they.
DO BUSINESS WITH THE ROOT OF BITTERNESS
I am sure that there are many factors that went into driving this young man to commit this sad and wicked act. There is already talk that he suffered from some type of mental illness. This would make sense. However, when we hear this, it becomes all too tempting to separate ourselves from him. Certainly, we may not suffer from a mental illness, but was it illness alone that drove him? It seems reasonable to assume that there was some sort of unresolved bitterness. We may be safe to separate ourselves from him as it relates to mental illness, but we must not separate ourselves relative to our struggle with bitterness and anger. This, if we are honest, is our struggle too. And we see, all too graphically, how deadly bitterness can be.
This event should compel us to do business with bitterness. Start with yourself. Stop being stubborn. Say you’re sorry to your kids, you’re spouse, you’re brother and sisters, your parents, etc. In doing so you might not only be releasing yourself from the burden of bitterness but also them. Unresolved hurt kills. Bitterness is murder in seed form. Kill the seed before it kills you (Matthew 5:21-26). Gently, tenderly and patiently, help your child get under the hurts of their hearts. Take the time to help them to process their emotions before the face of God.
The Scriptures tell us that sin is always crouching at our door. It wants to dominate us. And it does so by deceiving us into thinking that we are in control, that our perspective is the objective one, that the world revolves around us. Nowhere is this sin dynamic more powerful than in our response of bitterness. Sin tricks us into believing our own self-talk. Anger that grows from our own experience of hurt (real or perceived), more often than not is contaminated with the liquor of self-justification, distilled in the deep recesses of our hearts. And so our tendency is to devolve into greater and greater levels of self-intoxication. If it is not stopped, it will take us down to the pit.
What can break the cycle of self-pity and self-justification? What can break the spell of bitterness? Definitely not moral lecturing and religious adamancy! More often than not such posturing is itself a reaction of bitterness. And it only tends to impact the bitterness, causing the infection to go deeper. Bitterness begets bitterness. So what will break it?
Bitterness begets bitterness, but brokenness begets brokenness. The only thing that I have found that can open up the heart that is locked-down in bitterness is the penetrating power of the cross. The brokenness of the cross has the power to break the power of bitterness. How? On the cross, God dealt definitively with justice—the sins I’ve committed against God have been totally paid for, and God has offered the ultimately proof that He will deal with the sins that others have committed against me. In one fell swoop, at the cross God has proved both His love and His righteousness (Romans 3:25-26). In the cross I am both humbled and embraced. The injustice of my sin was so bad that for me to be forgiven required the execution of God. But His love for me is so great that He willingly offered Himself up. Knowing this gospel has the ability to melt our hearts even when they are bound in the greatest levels of fear, anger and self-obsession.
“Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”
~Jesus Paid It All by Elvina M. Hall
Indeed, Jesus is “the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease”.
SALT AND LIGHT IN OUR COMMUNITY
So we need to let this gospel work it’s magic on us and our family members. But we also need to be on the lookout for one another in the church, as well as our neighbors in the broader community. Each of us has a divine obligation to one another. However, unfortunately, the sociology of Cain has corrupted the modern world. “Am I my brothers keeper?” was Cain’s dismissive response to God’s question (Genesis 4). The proper answer to the question is “yes”. No man is an island. To varying degrees and on varying levels, we are all in this together. Yet, in the modern world, where individual rights and personal privacy have been elevated to the highest good, it has become very difficult to truly care for one another, to have substantive communication and thus real community.
Nonetheless, looking out for one another is biblical. And it is necessary for neighborhoods, schools, communities and society to function healthily. Who can you reach out to, especially at this time of the year where experiences of loneliness and family/relational conflict can be magnified? Who can you welcome in and minister the gospel to?
One of the things that I absolutely love about our folk at CRC is the way that each of you genuinely looks out, not only for one another, but also for your friends and neighbors. A week hardly goes by that I do not hear from one of you, asking me to pray for one of your friends, or looking for advice as to how you can reach out to a particular neighbor in need. I am so delighted to be your pastor.
As I close, I encourage you to be in prayer for those directly (and indirectly) affected by this tragedy.
For the One who conquered death,