It’s been one week since the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. Halfway through the week, I had to turn off the TV. I couldn’t bear the sight of one more hearse carrying one more child-sized coffin to one more funeral. It was just too much. Oh sure, mass killings have happened before, but this one was different. It involved helpless, innocent children. Our babies. Prior to the shootings one week ago, most parents didn’t give a momentary thought to the safety of their children when they delivered them to the bus stop or dropped them off at the front entrance of their schools. At school, elementary aged students are supposed to color pictures and play dodgeball at recess – not hide in closets to escape an armed gunman. One week ago, we were forced to wrap our minds around a new brand of evil. Prior to last Friday, we were aware that there are mentally unstable or evil people living in the world who are capable of committing atrocious acts. We knew that. But, innocent children seemed to be off limits. One week ago, that all changed. And we are left afraid — afraid of this world and the possibility that this brand of evil could intersect our own lives.
Just as people grieve differently, the same is true when it comes to the way we process our fears. Some are rallying for stricter gun control laws, while others want to arm school teachers and faculty. Others want metal detectors or armed security guards at the entrances of our schools. There is talk of better care for those suffering from mental illnesses or personality disorders (yes please!). Many of these ideas are worth pursuing and may in fact, reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this occurring in the future. But fear can also drive us to over-react and as a result, allow fear to reign supreme. I read a news story a few days ago about sales of children’s body armor and bullet-proof backpacks “sky-rocketing” after the tragedy. What? Who knew such products even existed?! An influx of orders caused the company’s site to shut down in the aftermath of the killings. The truth is, our children are at greater risk of injury and death from the car ride to and from school than anything that may happen in the course of the day while at school. And if you live in Texas where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees, your child is at a greater risk of heat stroke if you suit them up for Armageddon each morning before school. How ironic that some parents in an effort to placate their own fears, would in turn, instill even more fear in their children? Yet, as I type that last sentence, I wonder if I might not resort to such a solution should, God forbid, another tragedy like this occur.
While our natural tendency is to hold onto our children tighter in the wake of this unspeakable tragedy, the best way to put fear in its place is to loosen our grip. For Christians, we know that God is in ultimate control and a school shooting does not change that fact. But there are a few other truths in the wake of the tragedy that we would be wise to remember when it comes to ministering to our newborn fears regarding our children, the future, and the world in which we live.
We loosen our grip when we remember:
1. Our children belong first and foremost to God. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26) Our children are a gift (or blessing) from God and on loan to us for a short time. Our ultimate purpose is to point them in the direction of a loving God. Of course, we are to do everything within our power to protect them, but alas, we do not have control over their destinies. God alone knows the number of days ordained for each one of us, our children included. It’s hard enough to loosen our grip when it comes time for our children to fly the nest. I personally, cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing a child to death. Parents never expect that one of their children may precede them in death. I have had several friends walk this painful road and even with faith, they say it is not something you ever really recover from – rather you adjust to a “new normal” over time. And trust me, many would willingly take the place of their child if given the opportunity.
Please understand that I am not suggesting that we “loosen our grip” when it comes to the physical care and protection we are to give our young children. I mean it in a figurative sense. We must resist the urge to make our children our everything. Our entire reason for living. The center of our universe and the sole determinant of our personal worth and happiness. This doesn’t mean we don’t love our children with our entire beings. Of course, we do. I am simply saying that God never intended for our children be at the center of our worship. That is His place. As is true with anything we may make the center of our worship (money, job, spouse, success, etc.), should it go away, we will struggle to function in its absence. We may go on breathing, but we will cease to live. Loosen your grip on your children and remind yourself (daily if need be) that they belong first and foremost to God. Should they leave this world earlier than you expected, God is still on His throne and He will not leave you.
We must also remember:
2. The world is not our home. I heard news of the tragedy when I entered Costco to knock out a simple shopping list. I knew something was up when I passed by a group of people glued to the TV sets at the front of the store. I stopped to see what was going on and literally grabbed my heart when I saw the breaking news. Surrounded by strangers, we watched with horror as the news unfolded. Some around me shed tears. Others mumbled “why?” But my first thought was “when?” — “when is Jesus returning?” I was quick to remind myself that for believers, “this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come.” (Heb. 13:14) And in that moment, I ached for Christ’s return. I was homesick for my heavenly home. Today, I am less enamored with this world than I was a short week ago. I imagine many of you feel the same way.
Tragedies like this remind us not to get too comfy-cozy in this world. Our lives are only a tiny dot on the timeline of eternity. In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, let us use this time to take an inventory of our lives. Are we more concerned with gathering up for ourselves treasures on earth or treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20)? Have we hammered our stakes too deeply into a foundation that in the end won’t stand the test of time? Or are we using our short earthly tenures to build our lives on a solid foundation of faith (Matthew 7:24-27)? Even better, are we doing our part to help others drive their tent stakes into the right foundation and herald the good news that everlasting life – a life absent of sin, sorrow and suffering awaits those who believe in Christ? Loosen your grip on this world and set your sights on your heavenly home.
And finally, we must remember:
3. God’s ways are higher than man’s understanding. (Isaiah 55:9) Life is not always fair. Sometimes, God intervenes and other times, He does not. The truth is, God doesn’t owe us an explanation as to the rhyme and reason behind his ways. We will not get all of the answers to the questions we may have this side of heaven. God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like, but rest assured, He hears our prayers and He hates evil. Justice will be served and the righteous (those who believe) will prevail, whether we see it in this lifetime or not. Our sole purpose in life is to bring glory to God, even in the midst of trials and tribulations. To trust Him when we don’t have the answers or can’t see Him through our tears. He is there. He hears. He cares.
As we were left asking, “why?” in the aftermath of this tragedy, I couldn’t help but think of the prophet Habakkuk, who scripture tells us, complained to God about the evil and injustice around him. He too, went before God and ask, “why?” But, he didn’t just ask, “why?” He dared to lodge a formal complaint.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Hab. 1:2-4 ESV)
If you’re familiar with the rest of the story, God doesn’t give Habakkuk the answer he was hoping for. In fact, it’s fair to say Habakkuk’s worst fears were realized when God answered his complaint. In light of the bad news, Habakkuk doesn’t respond by buying body armor or holing up in a nearby cave with bottled water and beef jerky. Rather than respond in fear and trembling, Habakkuk responds with praise and trust.
17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. (Hab. 3:17-19 NLT)
Life is uncertain. The enemy wins when we live in a perpetual state of fear. Don’t get caught up in the fear frenzy. When we can insert our own personal “even thoughs” into the passage above, we put fear in its rightful place. What is your “even though?” Loss of job, divorce, a prodigal child? Is it failing health, a broken heart, or the loss of a loved one? Loosen your grip on your need to control the future and decide right now, that you will rejoice in the Lord … no matter what the future brings.
With Christmas just days away, we are reminded of the only remedy that can minister to our fears and bring comfort to our aching souls.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Perfect love casts out fear. This world is only a tiny prop in God’s beautiful love story of redemption. Our lives are but one scene in this masterful play. For His believers, the best scenes are yet to come. This is only a brief intermission. Hold on loosely to this world. Put your hope in heaven and cling tight to the only One who overcame the world.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.