Name The Darkness. Name The Light.
My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. - Desmond Tutu
In the midst of tragedy people often don't know what to say. Sometimes silence and prayer is the only way we must respond.
Have you ever had someone close to you pass away and at the funeral a distant aunt (Susan), or an acquaintance comes along an says something along the lines of:
"Everything happens for a reason."
or, "God is in control."
or, "Thank God she knew Jesus."
or worse, "If only she knew Jesus..."
These blanket statements often make people hostile towards Christianity or fuels them to reject the God of Christians. Statements like these can either give life or death in the midst of suffering, tragedy, and loss. Whether people know it or not, comments such as these are making grand theological statements that may paint a picture of a God that is far from love.
After catastrophes such as the mass shooting in Vegas at Mandalay Bay (10.1.17), or the shooting incident in New York City, south of where I live, in Tribeca (10.31.17), or the church shooting in Sutherland Springs (11.5.17), and all of the tragedies we are unaware of, it is very likely that someone experiencing the loss of a lover, friend, or family member from the event will be hearing one of these insensitive statements above.
As Church leaders, we must be aware of statements that give life and statements that give death. Although, in times like these, it is important to embrace the fears and questions: "Is God really good?", "Does evil really exist?" or "Will God's love win out?" This is part of being human, and Jesus wants nothing more from us. When people die too soon or from violent acts, we lose family members, whether Christian or not, because to be human means we are human together, as Desmond Tutu put it.
A Time For Silence
As Church leaders, musicians, pastors, or deacons we must have the hope of Christ on our sleeve ready to comfort those mourning, confused, or fearful, as we are often these things ourselves, but we must be quick to think and slow to speak. We must trust that the Spirit is working through us and guiding us with the proper words or the proper silences.
Before we open our mouths, it is important to realize that the peace of Christ speaks louder than our subpar language ever could. In the midst of tragedy, we often go to "God-talk" too quickly. The issue is that our biases can get in the way and can stall healing for others. Instead, we must first bring silence, connection, and presence. In this, God speaks. When we sit with someone in silence, our presence and physical connection alone is enough and Christ uses it.
Silence is letting what there is be what it is. In that sense it has to do profoundly with God: the silence of simply being. We experience that at times when there is nothing we can say or do that would not intrude on the integrity and the beauty of that being. - Rowan Williams
A Time To Speak
There will be a time to speak and we must allow the Spirit to give us wisdom for when to do so. This is when we can share the hope.
In our services or liturgies, people gather feeling confused, fearful, or sad after such terrible news, and they need to feel the stability of the presence of Christ in their midst and they need the stability of their leaders ready to share in the mourning and ready to share in the hope of Christ.
It is important that we address the sufferings of the world by first–naming the darkness and then naming the light. Mourning the loss of humanity is part of being human, and when we gather for worship-we are learning what it means to be human collectively–human together.
When we name the darkness, we are choosing to not be afraid of the cursed powers that come against us. Jesus named the darkness before he cast out demons and brought the human back into his light. We must not be afraid to speak the names of the corrupted souls who perform such violent acts, but when we do this, we must pray for their souls to be caught up in Christ and transformed, though this can be very hard for us do.
When we name the light, who is Jesus, we are putting our hope and trust in Him who is greater than all the powers that come against us. When we name the light, we name the love–who is Christ. The love of Christ passes all of our understanding that is wrapped up in fear and doubt.
As we go from darkness to light, we go from despair to hope.
Gathering for (mass) worship is the most critical time for this truth to become reality and we can then become reborn to it.
A Time For Truth
In times like these, it is important to embrace and conceptualize the truth that God is love, but that evil is also real.
God is the designer of love, peace, freedom, and goodness.
God is the designer of us. God designed us for relationship.
God has given us perfect freedom for the purpose a relationship with Him.
Perfect love and perfect freedom means God grants us the choice to choose love and choose a relationship with him.
But, to have perfect freedom means the risk of evil.
Evil can only exist because there is good. Evil exists because we exist and incapable of perfect love and our perfect freedom gets corrupted rather quickly.
As leaders, we must be ready to have these tough conversations, but we must be very cautious on when the right time is. Often it is best we wait for people to come to us seeking guidance or peace.
To not lose the truth that "God is love, but evil is real" can only make hope possible.
A Time For Hope: Heaven To Earth (present)
In the midst of tragedy, people often say that everything happens for a reason.
Everything does not happen for a reason. I reject this theological statement. God does not ordain evil that inflicts herself on lives of His Children.
God is a God who mourns over the pain of children and over the acts that his children does to one another. However, God takes evil that has been done and will bring healing - this is the tangible and present hope. This is hard truth to grasp, but God uses the corruption of humanity to bring healing to humanity often through the work of the Church and people who follow the Spirit, because they are the ones listening. It is heartbreaking when we use family members, but when such tragedies happen, it is a time that people can come together to love even harder, worship even harder, and make appropriate life changes that will affect reality in way that reflects the love of Christ.
As Christians and Church leaders, we are called to bring heaven to earth in the present by embodying the love and peace of Christ. This is the present hope. This is only subpar and temporary, but can make actual impact and help the world see Jesus until his second coming.
A Time For Hope: The Renewal of All Things (Future)
The future hope of the world is embodied in the declaration and Church mystery, "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again."
This is the hope of the world.
One day, all will be made new. All pain and death will cease. All evil will be void. God's love will win out.
Scripture promises a new earth, a new Eden, and a life with Christ eternally. This is what makes everything matter, and Jesus calls Christians to bring heaven on earth until he comes back.
"God is saving creation and bringing all creatures back where they began—into union with their Creator. God loves everything that God has made!" - Richard Rohr
In the midst of chaos and violence, God’s love can win out through the Church in the response and the reaction of evil – starting with silence, connection, and presence that leads to naming the darkness, naming the light, and bringing hope (present). This is how the Church can begin to bring heaven on earth.
In the midst of chaos and violence, it is important to cling onto the hope that God’s love will win out in the the renewal of all things. His eternal glory and love will defeat evil indefinitely.
(Romans 8:18-21) I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Prayer: May the God of Hope fill us with peace and love. May we learn to be human together. May we learn to mourn for our family members who inflict violence on other family members. May we have the courage to name the darkness, but also name the light. May we learn to be silent before we speak, and may the Spirit guide us when we do speak. May we learn to bring heaven to earth, as present hope, that can help make the world a better place and keep others from experiencing hell. May the love of God win out in the world of darkness and chaos. May our corrupted freedom find its root in Christ. May the second coming come soon for this is our future hope of attaining eternal love and eternal peace. Amen.