Must every tragedy be a lesson?

by Barnabas Piper
Posted on Friday, December 21, 2012, at 12:27 pm

Here we are, exactly one week removed from the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. I first heard the news while sitting with some co-workers at a company Christmas party. Like the rest of America, I was dumbfounded at the horror. That evening, after tucking my own children safely into bed, I sat on the couch paralyzed by the news coverage on TV. The weight of the event pressed so hard on my soul that it squeezed the tears from me, not as mournful sobbing but as a steady flow of overwhelmedness. And I know millions of others felt the same.  

That next day, though, when I fired up my computer, I began to see “responses” to the shooting—blogs offering theological “lessons,” articles pertaining to mental illness, and pontifications on gun control. What tripe. Twenty children and six adults lay slaughtered in Connecticut and we are proffering lessons and policies? Yes, it is natural to seek answers when the un-understandable happens. It is human nature to seek explanations, resolution, and remuneration. But children are dead. Are lessons really what is needed?

There are no answers to such an event, not ones that soothe the soul. The problem is not the guns or the mental illness—it is the human condition. All the theological analysis, no matter how true, offers nothing in the moment to lift the crushed heart. It is the evil of the human heart that turned a hunting rifle toward first-graders. Thousands of years of human history tell the story of great evil in humans and the efforts to counteract it. And all the blog lessons and gun-control rants won’t change that.

We must learn to sit with tragedy, to grieve with those who grieve. All those responses, while full of grief and anger, are not with those who grieve. They are at the grieving soul. We must learn to reflect before we react. It is better to give more time to grief than less. It is empathy of the richest kind that is needed, to reflect on the needs of the family of the children. Do they need three theological observations? Do they benefit from a diatribe on mental illness or the availability of guns? No, they need those who will grieve with them, stand by them, pray silently for them. So ask yourself: Is my reaction to this tragedy for my sake or for the sake of the hurting?

Consider Jesus. At Lazarus’ tomb He wept. He wept even as He knew He would call the dead man forth. He did not excoriate the poor healthcare of the day or blather on about theological rationales. He did not stand on a soapbox and announce His intentions. He simply wept with those who wept at the loss of a brother. Then He acted. And so we have hope: The One who conquers death will one day fix this problem of the human heart.

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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