How long, Lord, must I call for help,
But you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not save?
Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton. The order is chronological, but it might feel different, depending on how the events were experienced. And the list goes on. We grieve, we clamor for change, and then the news cycle changes and we forget. Until the next killing, the next massacre, the next church burning, the next attack on a synagogue or mosque, the next racist manifesto. The experts tell us that we become numb to this type of news, that we cannot continue to respond with profound caring. It is like we are in the middle of a war situation.
Because of our Christian commitment, we care and we want to respond. We pray for those who are suffering and offer our immediate support. If we are close to the situation we also use the gifts and skills that God has given us to accompany those who are suffering. But we also cry out like the prophet Habakkuk. We cry out for the pain, but we also recognize that something profound has to happen.
Sadly, we already know how people are going to respond to the next disaster, depending on their political perspective. As a country we seem to be stuck with our scripts, depending on our political perspective. We “know” that the principal problem is that “they” refuse to deal with the “real” issue. Depending on where we stand politically, we point to constitutional rights, to the polarized racial situation, to violent video games, to the number of weapons that exist in our country, to mental illness, to political leaders who seem to fan the flames of our national divisions, or to other similar explanation. We all “know” that “the answer” is to be found in “our” political solution. And many people just feel stuck. Will God ever listen; will God ever save?
As followers of Jesus Christ we need to be agents of God’s hope in the midst of pain and suffering. This begins with prayer, but with prayer that guides us into Spirit led action. We grieve with those who grieve, we offer pastoral and counseling support to those in the midst of pain. We pray that we will not become indifferent or numb because of the overwhelming impact of the pain and suffering.
But we are also called to be agents of reconciliation. We must also take on the prophetic mantle and address the deep divisions that exist in our country. As Christians we need to face the fact that we have the highest massacre rates of any country in the world (except for those in war zones). We can blame the “other” and “their politics” or we can recognize that this is a sign of something that needs profound change in our country.
As Christians we recognize both the reality of sin and the hope we have in Jesus Christ. In the midst of situations like Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, this means very concrete things for us. We recognize that violence is a result of human sin and brokenness. So we walk into the pain and serve as agents of God’s love.
Because we acknowledge the reality of sin we are also willing to confront its many manifestations, both personal and social. We have to denounce violence and the culture of violence in which we are stuck. We have to face our fears of each other across racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and national lines. We have to name that our national sins have a history and a context.
This means that we all have to look in the mirror and not just at the other. Reconciliation and repentance have to walk together. So do justice and peace. God’s vision for humans together is beautifully presented in Revelation 7:9-10. We are invited to be the people of God in the midst of our diversities and differences. We are called to proclaim and live the gospel so that we work toward God´s future. That is how we can begin to be agents of hope in the midst of the profound pain and suffering we are facing as a country today.
After this I looked,
And there before me as a great multitude
That no one could count,
From every nation, tribe, people and language,
Standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes and were holding
Palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
Who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb.