As a parent, and as a human being, I am writing this words with a severe heaviness in my heart as I watch the reports regarding the shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut. Right now they are saying 18 of the deaths could be children. The country is grieving together with the Newtown community. If that town is anything like Chardon, Ohio, the community is banding together in a powerful way and trying to find ways to help each other through this painful crisis.
Days after the shooting in Chardon, I was there with some friends to try and minister to the community and we returned at a later time to share the Gospel. Upon our arrival there the first time, just walking in the town felt like walking into a funeral home. The grief was tangibly heavy. My experience there taught me a lot. And I hope I can pass on some exhortation to the body of Christ anywhere near this community. For that matter, we never know when a tragedy like this could happen in our own neighborhoods.
While civil and government organizations are scrambling to find ways to meet the physical and emotional needs of the Newtown community, what is the Church doing? I cannot speak for any church in that area. I am speaking on a broader scale. A brief scanning of Facebook gave me a glimpse of how the body of Christ is reacting. I am not pointing fingers, because I responded in much the same way when tragedy reared its head in Chardon.
Of course, there has been a call to prayer on Facebook. That is good. I hope we are all sincere and will, in fact, be praying for this community today and in the weeks ahead. But, calls to prayer were quickly followed up with:
-comments on the role of the sovereignty of God
-jabs at a nation that has kicked God out of the classroom
-what, if any role, talks about gun control need to be had
-calls for speedy deliver of the Gospel
-the wickedness of this nation
First of all, "Where was God on December 14th?" is a question people will be asking. But not today. If there are asking it, I am pretty sure they are doing more to express emotion than they are asking for a serious theological discourse. Secondly, the role of God in the public classroom is a small issue. It is an easy horse to beat on, but it is not the primary issue. Gun control is not going to stop tragedies like this from happening. If we want to have the discussion, great - but that will neither prevent future tragedies, nor change what happened today. Is this nation wicked? Sure. But I would go beyond that and say that anyone who walks into a school to shoot little kids is not mentally or emotionally stable. Besides, shaking our fist at the wickedness of a nation will not bring back the children who were lost today.
The other issue - the speedy delivery of the Gospel, is the one that most stands out to me. Of course, the Gospel is the greatest need of any person whether they are facing a tragedy or not. But I will ask offending some by saying that there will be a time for the Gospel to be shared with these hurting families.
I have been apprehended lately by the thought of the Church being the reflection of Jesus to the world today. When Jesus was questioned about a tragedy, didn't he say, "Unless you repent, you likewise will perish." All I will say is go back and check the specifics of that account - it is not the same as what we have going on today. Think more along the lines of Lazarus. Jesus goes to his tomb knowing full well that He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. But what does He do first with those gathered? He weeps.
We know that sharing the Gospel is the most loving thing we can do for a person. I agree. But consider it this way. A husband and wife celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. A big milestone. The husband takes his wife to a romantic dinner and presents her with a small box. Her eyes widen and her jaw drops. With great excitement she opens the box to find a gift certificate for a week at "fat camp." She is quite overweight. Now, if a husband loves his wife, what should be more important - giving her a necklace on their anniversary or helping her get healthy and save her life? Obviously, the more loving thing is concern for her health. But there is a time, a place, and a way to handle that.
After my Mother died two years ago, I felt like a chunk of my soul was ripped out of me. I had people surrounding me with theological truths - "She is in a better place" - "You know she is with Jesus" - "God had a reason" - and on and on the comments went. All of them were 100% true. Honestly, for a time, it didn't matter to me if they were true or not. I felt like I had been stabbed with 50 swords through the chest. I was hurting. While the most loving thing for people to do was to make sure my theology stood the test, what I needed at that moment was to weep. I am grateful that God put many in my life who allowed me to do that.
I pray that there are believers on the front lines of what is happening in Newtown right now - sitting with grieving families. Sitting with families whose kids made it out alive but are in shock of the reality that their child could have been shot. Is there a church rallying to put together some food for people who, by now, have not thought about eating lunch? Does the mayor of this town see the churches as the city's greatest ally in meeting needs right now?
If Jesus was physically in Newtown right now, what would He be doing? Passing out tracts? Standing on a street corner with a sign? Open air preaching? All of these things are fine ministries. But I think, today, He would be with those hurting families and doing what He did in John 11 - weeping with those who are mourning.
I am not calling for us to abandon the preaching of the Gospel. I am calling for truth AND love. If Newtown is anything like Chardon, for the next several days, it will be a community that is hurting and grieving and lives feeling on the brink of emotional collapse. Today, they need the loving presence of Jesus from His people. In the days ahead, they will need to hear the hope of the Gospel. May the Church in that area arise!