The news flashed across my cell phone screen Sunday night. I didn’t want to look at it at first. I don’t think I believed it at first. But there it was. Another mass shooting. This time in a church. It has occurred to me that such a thing could happen. I would be lying to say there are not times on a Sunday morning when I look out through the windows in the doors at the back of the sanctuary and wonder what if I saw someone advancing with a weapon? With a gun? What would I do? What could I do? I’ve thought about it, but to read about it really happening hit home in a whole new way.
Then I read that the pastor lost his 14 year old daughter. That really got to me. I have a 14 year old daughter. How many times have I seen her smiling at me from the congregation? Singing songs of praise and lifting her prayers? How many times has it lifted my heart to see her there? To have a place she grew up thinking was safe—was sacred—how hard would it be to have that space violated? How hard would it be to not have her in that space at all because she had been killed? It seems like it would be more than I could bear.
I have read some of the comments from people who survived being in the church in Sutherland Springs or who had loved ones who died there. Several were already giving testimony to their faith as they talked about their loved ones being in heaven and trusting in the promises of God. I am sure the pastor who lost his daughter will be strong for his remaining flock and also give a witness. But if I were to write him I would want him to know that it is also ok to deeply grieve or even be angry at God. Sometimes we need to acknowledge those feelings first and dwell in that pain before we move on to the hope.
This does not mean our faith is weak. It simply means we are human. Scripture itself has many instances where people grieved deeply. Psalm 130 begins with the writer calling to God in desperation, “Out of the depths I cry to you”. Job, Habakkuk and Lamentations are other books that also express deep sorrow and hurl defiant questions at God. Even in the midst of admitting their honest despair, however, these books will still find a way to express a sense of hope. As we read in Lamentations chapter three:
I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
56 you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear
to my cry for help, but give me relief!”
57 You came near when I called on you;
you said, “Do not fear!”
In the midst of the horrible news that we were hit with again this week may we still somehow trust that God is near and not let fear get the best of us
– Pastor Erik