I meant to be posting about the Virgin Birth, but some current events are so terrible that they need to be acknowledged.
My thoughts and prayers genuinely are with those affected. I cry out to God. I have primary-school-age kids. Anyone who has children knows the dread of something happening to them, let alone something like this. There are no words to express the horror and calamity, the grief and loss and pain.
For me, and I suspect for many others, this tragedy raises a number of questions.
Why did it happen? We don’t know, and it’s probably not possible to know. It is in many ways an entirely meaningless, senseless, pointless, reasonless tragedy.
But in a sense (and only in a sense), it perhaps happened because we are all deeply messed-up people living in a deeply messed-up world (and that’s ‘messed up’ with a capital F).
Whatever evil is, it’s not so much ‘out there’ as ‘in here’, in each of us, in our own human hearts and lives, in the mess of our broken lives, broken relationships and broken communities. By which I do not mean to put some political spin on this, either left- or right-wing. The direct societal and psychological causes of an event like this are highly complex and for the most part unknown.
Nor am I bringing some religious agenda – that if we all prayed or read our Bibles or went to church this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. It very likely still would. And one thing I very firmly don’t believe is that this event is a result of ‘keeping God out of schools’, or of any aspect of secular society. Wherever blame lies, if anywhere, it’s not there.
Did God want this to happen? No. Emphatically, totally, utterly no. God did not want or will or plan or intend this tragedy. Of that I am convinced, and if some verses in the Bible suggest that he did, then I stand firmly against such an interpretation.
God did not want this to happen, nor did he make it happen. He is not to blame. Nonetheless, it’s okay and probably even necessary to rage and rail at him, to shout and plead and cry from the depths of our utter incomprehension and horror.
Why then didn’t God prevent it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I wish with all my heart that God would have stepped in to stop all the atrocities and tragedies and disasters that have ever happened. But as I’ve said before, on the whole he hasn’t and he doesn’t.
At this time of year we remember the Christmas story, and of course a major and often overlooked part of that story is Herod’s terrible ‘slaughter of the innocents’: yet another chilling, cold-blooded wholesale massacre of young children. One of the first results of the saviour’s birth was the tragic deaths of a town’s sons. It’s right there at the heart of the Nativity. Evil is real, and it almost always hits the innocent and the powerless first.
What I do believe with all my heart is that God is always present in the midst of tragedy and suffering – not causing it, sadly not always preventing it, but redeeming it. He is there with us, bringing meaning and hope and goodness into (and out of) otherwise meaningless, hopeless and terrible events.
So what hope is there? Those who have died cannot be brought back, nor can they ever be replaced. Nothing can compensate for their loss. So what hope can there be?
The killer is dead, and cannot be brought to earthly justice. Some will take a measure of comfort from the idea of divine vengeance, that he is in hell. But I see no hope or real comfort or healing in this. The only way there can be hope is for goodness and love and forgiveness to win out over evil and hate. The only way there can be hope is for people to come together in mutual support and compassion to rebuild shattered communities and shattered lives.
And in the end, one day, we believe in the Kingdom that is coming, where all wrongs will be righted and all relationships restored. It will not be yet, but it will be. It will be.
So how should we respond? Firstly, with as much prayer, love, compassion, grace, humility and honesty as we are capable of. And how we should not respond is with finger-pointing, or easy platitudes, or with attempts to make political capital out of tragedy.
So would changing gun laws make any difference? Perhaps, to an extent. In the UK we have much tighter firearm controls, and these kinds of incident happen far more rarely. But they do still happen occasionally. There have been gun massacres, and there have been other kinds of atrocity not related to firearms. All that said, here in the UK many of us do struggle to understand why so many in America feel that it’s their God-given birth-right to possess a firearm. Of course, we have our own different issues and national blindnesses.
Are violent video games to blame? Again, whatever the facts turn out to be in this instance, it’s probably not as simple as that in most cases. For most people, playing violent games and watching violent films isn’t going to spill over into acting out violently in real life. There’s a separation between fantasy and reality. But for some, under certain circumstances, the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred.
Perhaps one of the real issues here is improving support and care for those with mental, emotional and relational health difficulties. These problems can affect anyone, even nice kids from nice families. People who suffer in these ways need support and understanding, not stigmatisation or ostracising.
We’re all in this together – all flawed human beings capable of doing great harm and yet also capable of great compassion and kindness; all struggling to make sense of senseless tragedy and why a good God allows sh*t like this to happen; feeling utterly helpless in the face of events greater than ourselves.
Please God, Christ, shine your light in our darkness. Be with everyone involved in this terrible thing that’s happened. Help us all.