Uvalde: This isn’t the way the world was meant to be
It is not the way the world was created. And is not the way the world will one day be.…
It is not the way the world was created. And is not the way the world will one day be.
Stunned. Horrified. Grief-stricken. Livid. Afraid. Numb.
These are words I’ve heard friends use to describe how they are thinking and feeling after the horrific shooting in Uvalde, Texas which killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. We had not yet got our feet under us from the May 14 shooting in Buffalo which killed 10 more in a super market.
Can you put a name to what YOU are feeling about this?
There is no shortage of commentary and reaction to this atrocious massacre. I am in Spain at the time of this writing, and even here it is “in the news.” I don’t suppose we need another opinion or rant, but perhaps a few thoughts to frame things as followers of Jesus that would be helpful as we find words to pray, post, and talk to our children about it all.
John chapter 11 pulls back the curtain to reveal the emotions Jesus feels and the intentions Jesus has in the face of suffering and death. It also provides handles for us to grip when we find ourselves facing life’s pain.
Jesus was very close to Martha and her sister Mary (who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil) and their brother Lazarus. He spent plenty of time in their home, around their table. It was one of his “safe places.” When Lazarus became gravely ill the sisters sent a message to Jesus over in Jerusalem to let him know so he could come and help. But instead of jumping in the first Uber he could find and buzzing over to Bethany which is less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, Jesus stayed put for two more days. The text says Jesus knew Lazarus would be dead by the time he got there, but that Jesus intended to display God’s glory through this horrible loss.
By the time Jesus and his friends arrive in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. I picture already-wilted flowers in the house and half-eaten casseroles dropped off by friends, the house showing signs of wear from the visitors in recent days who had come by to give their condolences. Martha is angry: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
We have probably all said similar words in the face of death or deep loss. “God, where were you?!” “How could you let this happen?!” “Why didn’t you do something?!”
And her question begins with that horribly potent hinge word: IF. It’s a natural response in the face of what seems so unjust, to replay events and accusingly say, “IF” this or that had happened, this tragedy could have been avoided.
Some of us deal by asking questions. We go to our minds and want to reason this through and fix the problem.
When her sister Mary sees Jesus, she feels it in her broken heart. She falls in a grief-stricken heap at Jesus’ feet, and through wailing sobs says the same words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s that bitter mixture of fear, futility, and faith we have all tasted.
Some of us deal by expressing our sadness more openly. We go to our guts and feel it deeply.
It can help to notice these same two reactions among ourselves, family, and friends.
Jesus’ reaction is important to notice. Jesus sees Mary weeping and the sadness of heart of all the people who had gathered around this family in their time of loss and it’s almost too much for him. John 11:33 says Jesus was intensely moved – the same word repeated in 11:38 – literally, he “shuddered with the deepest emotions.” Most often this word is not used for sadness, but for anger and indignation, emotions that arose in Jesus in the face of suffering (Mark 1:43, Matthew 9:30).
At what is Jesus angry? Does he project it on the afflicted? On the women for not saving his life? On the local doctors of friends for doing nothing to save Lazarus? No, he was angry because he found himself face to face with the clear and obvious manifestations of Satan’s kingdom of evil. The realm of Satan is in opposition to the Kingdom of God Jesus came to bring. And here it is, represented by death, suffering, and tears. And Jesus is angry about it.
Beyond his feelings of anger, verse 33 says Jesus was also greatly distressed and troubled. It’s the same word used to describe how the disciples reacted to Jesus’ imminent death (John 14:1 – don’t let your hearts be troubled). It’s a word that is used to describe what Jesus felt at the thought of being betrayed by Judas, into whose heart Satan had entered.
It shows us a God who is deeply concerned.
When they took Jesus to the tomb, we find one of the shortest verses in the bible, two words in English: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).
I cannot begin to explain how significant these two words are for each of us. Especially in moments like the one we are living through.
Jesus stood with his friends as they faced loss. Before he DOES anything else he wept. We can confidently know Jesus stands with us, too. And while we don’t always know why God does or doesn’t do the things he chooses, we know one thing for certain – he is saddened with us in the face of death and evil.
Jesus is not weeping for Lazarus. He is about to raise him from the dead. It is not merely personal grief over the loss of a friend. It’s grief over the effects of sin and the way it brings so much sadness to so many. Seeing their pain before that tomb is what drove Jesus to his own cross and tomb on our behalf. Jesus is weeping because, standing there before that tomb, seeing their tears and realizing the sting of death, he experiences the punch of pain we all feel in a fallen world. He knows as we all know full well, this is not the way things are supposed to be.
And he knows someone must do something. And that is exactly what Jesus DOES. Not just for Lazarus and his family, but for ALL of us who suffer at a grave! He doesn’t begin with changing local laws or advocating better medical practices – although those things are often exactly good and right. He begins with big picture EVIL and addresses it at its root.
Today Jesus stands with us, and with the parents of murdered children. And he weeps.
This is not the way the world is meant to be. It is not the way it was created. And it is not the way it will one day be. (Revelation 21. Romans 8). But stuck here, as we are, in this middle place between God’s perfect creation and the restoration of all things to a new heaven and new earth, we live amidst the fallout of sin where evil raises its ugly head in so many ways. Even among the beauty and purity around us, we can’t escape the stench of sin in the systems, governments, and actions of ordinary people. And we recognize the line between good and evil doesn’t run between “us and them,” but through every human heart including our own. (Romans 3:23, Romans 7)
So I’m allowing myself to stand with Jesus and weep in the face of suffering, evil, loss, and death. We can weep because each death of a child is a reminder this is NOT the way things are supposed to be. It is not a reason to succumb to fatalistic thinking, but to long for – and work for — the restored picture of humanity that Jesus promises only comes through his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Death causes anger to rise not just in Jesus, but in us. The compassionate tears of Jesus annoy some of the bystanders. “This guy caused the blind man to see. Why couldn’t he do something to keep Lazarus from dying?” (v. 37). Again, Jesus was moved. They removed the stone and he shouted loudly into the tomb with an angry voice nobody could miss hearing: “Lazarus come out!” And the people couldn’t believe their eyes when old Lazarus stumbled out, tripping over his grave clothes. And Jesus said, “Unwrap him and let him go.”
Today I toured the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain and found myself staring with tears for several minutes at this painting by Ribera of the raising of Lazarus. It captures the moment with gripping energy. Jesus is stronger than the worst things the world brings.
We are all doing our best to process things. Perhaps this event from scripture at least assures us we are normal if our reaction is from the mind like Martha, as we seek to find practical solutions. Or if we are just gutted like Mary and want to cry. Or if we are mostly angry or cynical like the bystanders. Or angry with righteous anger like Jesus. Or frustrated with God for not stepping in, as many of them were. It’s all normal.
And perhaps it also reminds us that behind it all – behind the mental illness that often leads to shootings like this, behind the gun regulations, whatever they may be, behind school security, behind police actions at the scene, behind every last bit of it – is indeed the same evil that led Jesus to weep at the tomb of his friend. Knowing that doesn’t solve everything. But it is tremendously important to recognize. There is tremendous human responsibility that must be soberly faced right now. More on that in a moment. But let us not pretend that somehow we will “fix” everything if we humans just step up our game, get better security systems, and pass better laws. At the end of the day evil needs something to combat it that is bigger than us. Human solutions still don’t’ deal ultimately with the problem of evil and human wickedness. This isn’t to say we don’t fight to change laws of bring change. We absolutely do. But at the end of the day we also recognize the brokenness of the planet and long for redemption. And create safe havens of community where people are loved and protected as best we can. In the biggest sense, this is not about “gun control” or anything else we can “control” – but about sin control which is evil control – which of course we are notoriously ill equipped to control at all.
This is the ultimate hope of the Christian gospel. God has found a way to overcome evil. And this is what allows us to say to our children with assurance of faith, Jesus is sad with us and with all the grieving families. And God is still in control. And the Lord is making things right. And Jesus tells us to pray and to act boldly in ways that bring goodness, justice, and life to all people.
So what does it all mean?
- It means we never succumb to the numbing that happens when too many are slaughtered – by any means – at any age, born or unborn. We teach our kids the value of human life. All life – whether of children – born or unborn, women, men, people of color, whites, old people, special needs people, people like us and those different from us – EVERYONE. Raise kids who understand the value of human life!
- It means we strive to cope from the balanced perspective of mature faith in the face of tragedy. We are not calloused and casual about it. Jesus wept! But also we are not wrecked and ruined by it. Jesus rose again and conquered evil and death giving us hope!
- It means we continue to help people understand the horrible influence of poor mental health on human flourishing. I haven’t had time to read up on whether the last two shooters were officially diagnosed with anything. But I know they were unwell. At the least it leaves people unwell and languishing; at worst it leaves people dead. We need more awareness, less stigma, and more Christian involvement in mental health issues.
- It means we don’t shy away from praying. There is so much anger around the injustice of this incident that if you say, “our prayers are with the people of Uvalde” someone will likely curse at you and say, “We don’t need your prayers! We need action and change!” The phrase “thoughts and prayers” is under attack. I absolutely agree we need action and change. And if the phrase is thrown out as a flippant, shallow, spiritual sounding line with no intention to actually pray or do anything, I understand the frustration. But these outcries also misunderstand the place and power and importance of prayer. It is not an either/or proposition – as if EITHER we pray, OR we actually DO something important. Prayer IS our first and most important work. Of course we should not just flippantly throw out a line like “thoughts and prayers” with no intention of truly caring or acting on the behalf of those who suffer. If it is used in that way, then shame on us! But we must also never let the current cultural mood make us shy from praying or SAYING we are praying. Prayer moves the heart of God. Prayer blesses and brings the Spirit’s healing to those we are praying for. Prayer influences people in power. And prayer changes us – the people who pray. So even though we must do more than pray, don’t ever be embarrassed to say “we are praying” or feel like it is not something significant. Prayer moves God to action and intervention, and I’ll take God’s actions over human actions any day.
- Christians can unite on the fact that we must do all we can to create a just, safe, and good society. And especially we must seek to protect children and innocents. The specific laws and best regulations around guns is obviously hotly contested. We must make sure our perspectives are driven by God’s will and scriptural teaching more than our personal preferences or political stance. Too much of the reactionary shouting by Christians on both sides of the “gun control” issue ignores the advice of that last sentence. Some will say guns aren’t the problem, but the people who wield them, and if we melted down every firearm, we would find other ways to kill each other, just as Cain murdered his brother. And there’s truth to that. Here is another painting I saw today at the museum, The Death of Abel by Michiel Coxcie.
And yet, when firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens (read that again if you need to), it’s hard to argue that change is not needed. I encourage every Christian to research the issues more closely than it appears most do. Come to your own conclusions about what would be best for protecting children. Some want to see all guns banned. Others see that as unreasonable, but want to see more stringent background checks, waiting periods, and more done to make it more difficult for 18 year olds to get ahold of AR-15 assault rifles. This seems reasonable to me. We can debate the specifics, but be sure to ground your convictions on God’s will. Christians are those who advocate for the kind of society that most aligns with the values of God’s kingdom.
- It means we lean in and listen to God right now. What is he teaching us – and YOU – through this? Because just as in the case with Lazarus, Jesus wants to use times of death and loss and suffering to teach us something and bring glory to God. Don’t misread that. God didn’t cause this. God doesn’t send killers into schools or take lives to get his jollies or prove a point. God is not a sadist. But God IS an opportunist in the sense that he will waste nothing and seize everything – no matter how bad – to reclaim it for good and use it to teach, and even bring out something beautiful in his timing. It sounds unbelievable, but every person of faith has experienced this. And of course we see it through the cross and resurrection of Jesus himself. This truth lies at the center of our belief, and so it hovers in our minds providing HOPE in the midst of the tragedy, even as we weep and grieve and express our anger.
- It means when we are afraid – and we can surely be afraid for our kids and grandkids and society as a whole — we reach out to the One who offers his peace and encourages us with the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…trust in me.”
It’s a lot to explain to a young child. But a child can understand and be rightly comforted by these confident affirmations:
God is great. God is good. God is love. God is in control.
I don’t pretend that these words solve everything for everyone. But I do hope they help us frame up the issue in ways that mirror some biblical and helpful responses that help us and honor God.
Grace and peace,