Twenty

jesus-teachingFor all of the mass shootings that have plagued our country over the past 30 years – and even moreso in the past 15 – why does this one in Connecticut, the eighth of 2012, hit so hard? Because of one number. Twenty. The number of children age 7 and under killed in a simply incomprehensible attack.

Like many of you, I thought about those 20 (and the eight adults who died trying to protect them) in church yesterday. We opened the service with Joy to the World and its lyrics, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” and “Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns!” Does he?

We followed that up with Sing to the King, which states: “Satan is vanquished, and Jesus is king!” Is he?

Next was O Come All Ye Faithful, which follows up its title lyrics with, “Joyful and triumphant.” Are we?

It was a bold move to speak the hope, faith and expectation of Jesus’ reign during a weekend when any sign of it seemed so scarce. And, for me at least, it was a needed one. Advent is about acknowledging the wrongness of this world while also declaring the hope we have of its future rightness. In a weekend where the former was so clear, I’m thankful for our church leadership’s call to focus on the latter.

I’ve written a lot about theodicy on this blog (there’s a whole tag devoted to it, if you’re interested), so I’m turning the rest of this space over to folks who worked through this much more eloquently than I could.

On the theology and theodicy of this heartbreaking business, I found these two comments helpful.

Peter Enns:

Well, like I said, who cares what I think. But these moments test one’s faith more than most. And it makes other “challenges to our faith,” like whether there was a historical Adam or whether the Bible was written after the return from Babylonian exile, look like a splash in a shallow puddle compared to the deep, black, ocean storm of 5 year olds getting shot because they went to school one day.

I can easily get my arms around a God whose book begins with a mythic story of a naked first couple holding a conversation with a serpent, or a Bible that wasn’t written until the 5th century BC. But yesterday? There is nothing “easy” about it. …

If you believe in God, there will always come a point–and sooner than we tend to think–where our understanding hits a wall at 80 mph.

Jonathan Storment:

And if you don’t watch the video, here is what I want you to hear her say, “Christmas is touching the pain of the world, experiencing it as real…and then choosing to have hope.”

That’s what Christmas was. That’s what Christmas is.

So for our brothers and sisters in Connecticut trying to explain this evil to their children. To the husband holding his wife’s hand as she slips away into the age to come. To the senior saint who’s sitting at at a table for one this Christmas eve. To the woman in the Sudan who prays for someone to send her children food:

Christmas doesn’t turn a blind eye to you.

Jesus entered the world in a time when Herod was committing genocide on children. Christmas doesn’t skip this tragedy, or any tragedy, it runs into it.

Christmas calls Christians everywhere to touch the pain of the world, experience it as real, and then to hope.

I found this pushback by Jennifer Crumpton against the notion of God not being allowed in schools to be wise:

In my role as a Christian minister, I have to speak up about the lie politicians and others are putting forth, that the CT shooting happened because “God has been removed from our schools.” This is a dangerous, irresponsible, and and theologically immature statement. God is not found in the rules or activities sanctioned by a school, or the doctrines that make that an issue. God is in the hearts of human beings, children included. … God does not “allow” things to happen because we do not adhere to human-concocted doctrine and superstition. Where is God? God is grieving with us. But God is not smiting children because of the separation of church and state.

Finally, on the business of guns and our society’s unconscionable acceptance of them, this post by Ezra Klein was hands-down the best of the weekend. This point was posted and reposted on Facebook, and I sincerely hope – sincerely pray – that it makes the impact it should among those with the power to change the conditions that allow these tragedies to occur on such a regular basis:

If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.

On a similar note, I’ll close with what I posted to Facebook on Friday afternoon:

Amid the heartbreak and tragedy coming from my home state today, here’s the even sadder, more heartbreaking fact: There have now been eight mass shootings in America in 2012 alone, or one every six weeks. Is now finally the time to have a serious, healthy conversation about the easy accessibility of deadly weapons in our society? Or will we sweep it under the rug again, arguing that we don’t want to politicize a tragedy, only to find ourselves mourning again … and again … and again … and again …

I guess what I’m saying is I totally appreciate and understand the instinct to grieve and reflect and push “politics” to another day. But every time a tragedy like this takes place, we push “politics” to another day, and that day when we have a real conversation about the policies we need to enact to prevent future tragedies – gun control, yes, but also affordable access to care for the mentally ill, among many other options – never takes place. So, yes: Pray. Mourn. Cry. Reflect. Hug your children. I will be doing all of those things. But if that’s all we do, shame on us.

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