God help us.
1999: Columbine High School; fifteen dead. 2007: Virginia Tech; thirty-three dead. 2012: a theater in Aurora, Colorado; twelve dead.
And now Sandy Hook Elementary School, in the small and unpretentious town of Newtown, Connecticut: twenty-eight dead, including the twenty-year-old gunman, his mother, and adults who tried to protect the children. Twenty children, all six and seven years old, killed by a heavily armed young man, for reasons no one yet understands.
Children. The Internet is filled now with adorable, vulnerable portraits of the victims, and heart-wrenching stories of both the devastated parents of the slain and the grateful parents of survivors. Nobody in Newtown will be left untouched. Everyone is asking, “Why? How could this happen? When will this senseless violence end?”
As the investigation proceeds, mental illness will surely be part of the story that emerges. Fiery debate over gun control, which flared up after the Aurora massacre, is already being taken up with renewed vigor. And people will turn to their churches, for comfort and for answers.
As those who bear the Spirit of Christ, I hope we don’t jump too quickly to the answers, at least not until we’ve sat long enough with the pain of the questions.
My mind goes to an incident in John 11. Jesus is in Bethany, just a couple of miles from Jerusalem. His good friend Lazarus has died, and has now been four days in the tomb. They show him where they have laid the body, in a cave sealed with a large stone. And there, deeply moved, Jesus weeps.
Why? He knows the miracle he is about to do; in mere moments, he will call forth a resurrected Lazarus from the tomb, still bandaged head to toe in grave-clothes. Why the tears?
I cannot believe that he is crying because of his own personal loss. Rather, I believe that Jesus, confronted with death and surrounded by unbelief, knows that these things are not God’s good will.
And it’s killing him.
“Jesus wept.” People joke about it being the shortest verse in the Bible. But it’s also one of the most significant, especially in this hour, and at every place where sin takes the form of senseless killing. Because from the standpoint of the Author of Life, every death is tragic and senseless. Every death is a giant black question mark scrawled haphazardly across the canvas of a good and beautiful creation.
So first, let us weep with those who weep. And then, and only then, let us tell the story of when it will all end.