People of faith typically react with sorrow and outrage with the news of shootings such as those at Sandy Hook and El Paso. But the after effects of such tragedies, especially when they happen in one’s hometown can include spiritual challenges and struggles.
The most obvious challenge is the question “Why? Why does God allow such things?” I have struggled with this question most of my life. These shootings intensify the question. Why did God permit the death of a young mother, shot as she shielded her infant, much less the deaths of other innocents. Why did God permit others to survive? Or perhaps God had nothing to do with it? Where if anywhere was God at Sandy Hook, in Odessa TX, or at a Walmart one Saturday morning?
Like Job, I and others would like for God to show up and explain Himself/Herself.
And yet in the face of such tragedies, persons in pain turn to their churches, synagogues, and mosques for comfort more than for answers. This echoes the words of Rabbi Harold Kushner who suggests that, while God may not have intended those deaths, He/She is there amidst the carnage, there for comfort and consolation.
As I deal with my own anger toward a shooter much less my anger toward politicians whose rhetoric inflames a culture of violence, Jesus’ words challenge me: “Love your enemy.” Clearly acts of mass violence are against Jesus’ teachings as are words of judgment against migrants trying to seek a better life. Do I just ignore His words, saying “Well, Jesus said those words for another time and place.” Does Jesus not challenge me to love both the politician and the 21 year-old killer sitting in an El Paso jail?
As I muddle through this challenge, I take comfort knowing that Jesus did not say I had to like my enemy. Thus, loving my enemy might involve forgiveness and prayers for healing.
The greatest spiritual challenge of mass shootings is fear. The prevalence of mass shootings is in fact something to fear. But the real issue is how much power we give to that fear. I can’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t fear. Jesus clearly understood that fear permeates our existence. Time and again, He exhorts us not to be afraid, a theme also echoed in the Psalms where we read “Be still and know that I am God.” Yet contrasted with that is that fact that, in Texas where people are allowed to carry concealed weapons, some are coming to church armed.
I have to decide what I expect of the God of my understanding. There were people of deep faith shot and killed that Saturday morning. Faith, after all, is not some sort of bullet-proof vest. My placing of my trust in God does not guarantee my safety. I wish it did. At this point, though, I believe faith empowers me against fear.
It is one month since the shootings in El Paso. On CNN, Fox News and elsewhere, it is already “old news”, especially in the face of yet another shooting in Texas. In the midst of such madness, do we simply retreat, hoping that the world will leave us alone or do we hold onto the hope that somehow the madness can stop?
REFLECTION: 1. How have the mass shootings affected you spiritually?