A week ago Friday twenty year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, Connecticut with three guns and started shooting. He killed twenty children and seven other adults, including his mother, before killing himself.
I found it very difficult to function that day after hearing the news shortly after lunch. Since then I have enjoyed the time I’ve had with my daughters, so thankful they’re alive. And I should enjoy them. I have no guarantee of another day with them. If I were to stop enjoying them, only allowing sorrow, evil would win a small but significant victory. Nevertheless, I also need to feel the weight of what happened. I need to cry, to grieve, to groan, and to sit in silence and stillness. I may need to scream.
Twenty kids. Twenty beautiful little children, made in the image of their Creator, intended to do good and bring hope and life and joy into this broken world. Twenty vessels, loved, and destined to love. Twenty lights. Snuffed out. Violently destroyed.
We are not safe. We never have been safe. The greatest potential for good and the greatest potential for evil coexist inside of me, inside each of us. But where do we place ourselves? Will we hang out with people who make it easier to give life, to do good, to love when it’s hard? Or do we hang out with folks who make it easier, more profitable, perhaps, to be undoers of good, undoers of life, undoers of love? If I’m honest I’ll admit that the people I hang out with affect my day-to-day and long-term decisions more than anything else.
But let’s say I have such a community. What of the outsider? What of the kid or woman or man who’s struggling to find their way? What of the Adam Lanzas, the Cho Seung-Huis, the Eric Harrises, the Dylan Klebolds? What of the Tyler Clementis or the many Native American youth who have committed suicide in recent years? I must see him when others do not. I must brave a “Hello, how are you? I’m Kevin, what’s your name?” I must give him the space he needs and yet listen well when he starts talking. I must give him the attention that lets him feel, finally, that he matters. He is valuable. He is worth someone’s time. I must open my door and let him in.
Perhaps I put myself and my family at risk, opening my life to strangers like this. You never know what someone with a mental illness might do. Then again, you never know what I might do. We’re all a little mentally ill, aren’t we? Who of us would claim that we’re never ashamed of our thoughts? That we never lose our concern for how we affect others? That our minds don’t sometimes go to dark places? That we’re not thankful and relieved when we find our way back to the light, wondering what would happen if we didn’t? We’re not so different.
I’m not saying I’m not responsible for my actions. I’m not saying that working for stricter gun control and better access to mental health services is futile. Indeed, both are vitally important and we need to push hard to achieve them. What I am saying is that there’s also a deeper issue. Each of us is broken. This world is broken. We need help. Who will rescue us from this world of death? Indeed, this is what Christmas is all about. The incarnation, the advent of the Human One, is our Creator once more doing for us what we could not and still cannot do for ourselves.
Samaria will be desolate, because she has rebelled against her God; by the sword they will fall— their babies will be dashed, and their pregnant women ripped open. (Hosea 13:16 CEB)
O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated! How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us! How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock! (Psalms 137:8, 9 NET)
We are sorry, Lord, for our addiction to violence and the arrogance of revenge.
Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.” (Exodus 1:22 CEB)
My eyes are worn out from weeping; my stomach is churning. My insides are poured on the ground because the daughter of my people is shattered, because children and babies are fainting in the city streets. (Lamentations 2:11 CEB)
Father, help us to forgive those who have committed violence against us.
Now people were even bringing their babies to him for him to touch. But when the disciples saw it, they began to scold those who brought them. But Jesus called for the children, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17 NET)
We are sorry, Lord, for treating children as if they don’t matter as much as we do. Help us to see them as you do.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5 CEB)
Come, Lord Jesus!