During the last few weeks Tim has asked us to consider traditions, specifically Christmas and holiday traditions. He described these traditions as anchors—present practices that remind us of a shared story. Traditions communicate belonging. They remind us of our place in history. They show us where we have been and situate us within history’s unfolding story.
Traditions can be fun or somber. They can be new or ancient. Traditions can also vary in their scope. Traditions can be personal, familial, geographical, cultural, or religious. But whatever their designation, most traditions situate us within a tribe; a group of insiders that share a common story.
But what happens when tragedy hijacks our stories? We were reminded this weekend that we live in a world where evil and suffering exist.
Friday morning was just another day for the students, parents, and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Life was normal. They lived in a safe place where evil was real but distant. Horrific acts happened, but they did not happen in Newtown. But at 9:30 a.m. the world changed forever. Evil marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School. Shots rang out. And in a few short moments just over 2 dozen families were forever altered. By 10 a.m. on Friday morning these families became part of an unwilling tribe of mourners.
What happens when tragedy and evil hijack our stories, pull up our anchors, and pollute our traditions? When these kinds of events take place, they shock and sadden outsiders and threaten to completely tear apart insiders. They leave all of us groping for answers to nagging questions: Why my child? Who would do something like this? Could anything have been done to prevent it? How could a good God allow this to happen?
For those who find themselves in this newly formed tribe of sufferers, family traditions will never be the same. The unopened presents under the tree only serve as a heart-wrenching reminder that their stories have been forever altered.
At times like this, our hearts break as we watch the pain and struggle of others. We sympathize as best as we can but very few of us will ever know pain and sorrow like this. And let’s be honest, none of us really want to know how they feel. We all want to remain sympathizers and outsiders because none of us ever want to experience their pain.
In times of intense suffering, sympathizers often wonder what they can do to help. We want to offer hope; we want to soothe the pain. But what can we do?
Here are just a few things we can do for those who belong to this or another tribe of sufferers:
- Acknowledge that there are things we just don’t know.
- Listen to and tell their stories.
- Live the hope of resurrection.
Here is the hard truth: We don’t know why God allowed the tragedy in Newtown to happen. Yes, we live in a fallen world. Yes, evil is real. And yes, sometimes human beings visit terrible evil upon one another.
But we don’t know why God allowed the Sandy Hook shooting to take place. And while the truths about sin, death, and the fall might bring us some measure of understanding in the abstract, they often fall flat when gripped by tragic loss and inconsolable grief.
When we acknowledge that there are things we just don’t know, we accept our place as finite creatures. But we must not stop there. Redemptive love demands that we look events like these full in the face, for within them we see our Savior’s heart and our desperate need for Him. In this one event, we see both the depths of human depravity and the heights of redemptive love.
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung began the day as an anonymous principle of a small elementary school in Connecticut. By 9:30 a.m. she had showed us what Jesus looks like. She stood in harm’s way, dying a martyr’s death, for her students. She lived the incarnation, and her sacrifice provides us with an anchor within the midst of terror and grief.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 NIV). This is why the actions of Dawn Hochsprung and her colleague Vicki Soto resonate so deeply with us. There is something noble, right, and just when a person sacrifices themselves for another. The events of last Friday remind us that we live in a fallen world where evil and injustice not only exist but at times seem to triumph. The actions of these heroes move us so deeply because they reflect the story of God’s love manifested in Christ toward all humanity.
In recent days, many have offered ideas about why God was not at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Some have guessed that he abandoned all those precious little ones because we have pushed him out of our society. I could not disagree more. I think God was there. He was there standing in harm’s way—just as He was 2,000 years ago. When Vicki Soto was shot trying to protect her students, He was shot too. Anytime redemptive love shows up, the spirit of God is present.
Today we mourn, but as followers of Christ we mourn with hope. We mourn because of senseless violence and reckless evil but have hope because Jesus has conquered death and presently rules and reigns. We have hope because we know that, even though evil seems to have won on Friday, evil will not ultimately win. We mourn the loss of so many lives and so much potential. Our hearts go out to the families and friends in their grief. But we are reminded even in the midst of Friday’s great tragedy that light is greater than darkness, that good will conquer evil, and that resurrection hope is more powerful than the steely hands of death.
This past Friday, many stories were hijacked by evil, but even in the midst of this horrific scene God continues to write the story of courage, grace, and love—a story He started some 2,000 years ago.
Bible Teacher/Content Developer