Tears for Orlando
My colleagues and I have spent much of the last few days praying for all of those devastated by Sunday’s savage attack in an Orlando nightclub. The prayers have been sorrowful, even angry, as we grasped for words when no words will do. None of us can imagine what it was like to be the victim of such hate and violence.
I have spent years researching the question of whether the evil of our world is reason to disbelieve in God. But confronted with evil this horrific, that is not my question. Today my question is, How do we stand with those who are suffering?
First, tears. When Jesus arrived at his friend Lazarus’s tomb, he did not offer explanations. He wept. The language used implies that he wept bitterly. Let us not allow dry eyes to disqualify our support of those who have suffered. Until we have cried with the victims and their loved ones, we will have nothing else to say.
We secondly need to call this attack absolutely, unqualifiedly, incontrovertibly evil.
Too often I have heard it blithely debated in philosophical armchairs whether there is any such thing as real, objective good and evil. Increasingly I now hear this from students on college campuses—good and evil are just subjective evolutionary byproducts.
This is not good enough! It is not good for those who were murdered. It is not good enough for the families of those who were murdered.
Let us respond to this attack in Orlando by repenting of any time that we have let philosophers or popularizers of philosophy convince us that the denial of good and evil is a position to be taken seriously. Let us repent of the fact that we have allowed today’s youth to regard this as a position to be taken seriously.
A third thing we absolutely need at this time: We need to believe that every single human life is sacred and valuable and worth protecting, and that must manifest itself in a love for others that is unconditional.
A love that precedes any and all questions—love that is not dependent on “Do you look like me?” or “Do you act like me?” or “Do you agree with me?” or “Do you benefit me?” That is the only love that qualifies as Christian love.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What this means is that, even when the answer to every one of these questions was a clear “No,” Jesus loved us with such aversion to conditions that he gave his life for us. Without asking any of these questions, he preferred to die than to watch us die.
Let us repent of when we have asked questions before opening our hearts to love. May we be adamant that it is never okay to treat people as anything other than sacred and absolutely worthy of dignity and respect.
Fourthly, when faced with unspeakable evil, we need justice. We need to know that this repulsive hate will not be overlooked. We need to know it is not just going to fade into the rapidly deteriorating memory of history.
Theologian Miroslav Volf says he only came to understand God’s commitment to justice after his homeland (the former Yugoslavia) was ravaged by war. Two hundred thousand killed and three million displaced demanded this response from Volf: “Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love” (Free of Charge, 139).
In light of this weekend’s attacks in Orlando, let us never again oppose God’s love with God’s justice. It is precisely because of how much God loves every single person that was killed on Sunday that he is so committed to justice.
Fifthly, those who suffer cannot be left to suffer alone.
In this time, as we struggle to even imagine what those suffering are going through, let us pray and trust that the Christian God will be with them. For God knows what it is to have a child brutally murdered. He knows what it is to cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). He knows the agony behind the words “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
I do not believe those who died on Sunday were alone when they died. I believe the God who loves them was with them and was reaching out to them even in those final moments. And I believe the reason his presence with them at that time could have been a source of comfort and strength is because he knows firsthand what it is to be hated, captured, tortured, and murdered. He chose to go through it himself so that he could be meaningfully present in those last moments to those who died on Sunday.
This is a God worth following. But following him means making serious sacrifices in order to be able to be meaningfully present to those who are suffering. Are we?
And, finally, we need hope. We need hope that evil will not have the final word in our world.
I saw a commercial recently that showed a baby being born, and then in thirty seconds it fast-forwarded through the child’s entire life until before you knew it he was old and gray and hunched over, and then he fell down and crashed into a grave.
And then words flashed across the screen: “Life is short. Play more Xbox.”
Really? Is that the best we’ve got?
Life is short, and it’s fragile. Is the answer really just to play more Xbox—to distract yourself and try not to think about it because there’s nothing you can do anyway?
The future that the Bible offers is so very different:
“God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Let us hope with those who are suffering. Let us hope with them that death need not be our end. Let us hope that God was with each one, until the very end, offering this hope.
The call of a Christian is to follow Jesus, to follow his life—a life centered on an unconditional commitment not to cause suffering but to help others through it, no matter the cost to oneself.
At this time, let us respond to evil with tears. May those tears unite us with the God who shed tears—a God of love and of justice. And may following that God lead us to the sacrificial love and service of others that alone brings peace.