Shock and Disbelief…
On Wednesday, as I was running errands, several emergency vehicles passed me at high speed, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, heading northwest to Parkland. Shortly after, I stopped by my house, and could hear helicopters in the distance. My next-door neighbor was standing in her yard, visible shaken – trembling, actually – and told me there was an active shooting happening at the High School. Texts started pouring in. The news reported seventeen “injured.” I sat for a few moments in utter shock and disbelief. “This can’t be happening! Again. Here.” I could still hear the helicopter’s blades, within walking distance from my home.
I flashed back to Columbine, way back in 1999, and the shock I felt then. I’d never imagined anything like that could happen – at a school, of all places – or could ever happen again. But by now, “Columbine” is synonymous with the many school tragedies that have happened since.
But, “Columbine” was 2000 miles away. Virginian Tech, West Nickle Mines, Sandy Hook – tragedies, but so far away. And, there’ve been countless others we’ve forgotten, on campuses and off.
Now, our own Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been added to the list.
Shock. Disbelief. Fear, anger, outrage, grief.
How could this happen? How could this happen here?
Wishing for Lions…
Revelation 5 paints a picture of God’s throne in heaven, high above the violence and chaos of this world. God asks, “Who is worthy?” to open a scroll, foretelling events yet unknown. When no one was found, Revelation 5:5 says, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
This, of course, is the risen Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, who conquered death, dying on the cross, but rising from the dead. Death is the ultimate enemy of humanity. No one has ever conquered death. No one, except the Lion of Judah.
When tragedies, like this, occur, we turn to God. I did on Wednesday. I immediately prayed for the protection of everyone at that school. I prayed for the first responders. I prayed for the families who couldn’t get to their children. I prayed that the reports of injuries were only injuries, not fatalities. I prayed for the incident to end as quickly and as peaceably as possible. I prayed God would prowl through the halls of Douglas High School like a triumphant, powerful, fearless lion, to save the day!
When tragedy strikes, I pray for God to move in power. In the words of Isaiah 64:1, “Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence!” Isaiah 64:1
I want the God who sent plagues on Pharaoh. I want the God who parted the Red Sea. I want the God who defeated armies. I want the Jesus who drove out demons. I want the Jesus who calmed the storm. I want the Jesus who raised the dead. I want God to show up in power, defeating evil, saving the innocent.
Psalm 18 says, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet… The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.”
That’s the God I wanted Wednesday. A God who intervenes. I wanted God to be like Superman, to swoop down and save the day.
But, when the day was over, seventeen were dead, fourteen injured, the assailant in custody, families traumatized, and a school, community, and nation in shock.
I’ve no doubt God was in the bravery of the students, faculty and staff, in the first responders, and in the comfort of family and friends. I’ve no doubt God was present in the worship services and prayer vigils. I’ve no doubt God has been present in acts generosity. I’ve no doubt God is here, with us, now.
But, I suspect we’d give all of that up in exchange for God saving those seventeen lives.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…
According to the Bible, God has moved powerfully in history. Yes, the Lion of Judah triumphed over death. But, the following verse, in Revelation 5:6ff, says, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne… He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
The Lion of Judah appeared as a wounded, sacrificial lamb – not a lion. The one who is worthy, is the one who was wounded – wounded for our transgressions; for our sinfulness; for our rebellion; for our disobedience; for our brokenness; for me; for you; for Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas; wounded for the sins of the world.
Worthy is lamb who was slain. Worthy is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
God’s greatest act in history – when death was defeated – looked in every way like weakness, tragedy and defeat. No one at the cross saw a roaring lion. And, yet, on the cross, true power and greatness were revealed.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “God’s distinctive greatness is revealed precisely in powerlessness… God consciously revealed himself in the powerlessness of Nazareth and Golgotha. Thus, it is not the one who can destroy the most who is the most powerful…but, on the contrary, the least power of love is already greater than the greatest power of destruction.”
Henri Nouwen wrote, “In Christ we see God suffering – for us. And calling us to share in God’s suffering love for a hurting world. The small and even overpowering pains of our lives are intimately connected with the greater pains of Christ. Our daily sorrows are anchored in a greater sorrow and therefore a larger hope.”
Isaiah 53:2-3 says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:2-3)
As we now know firsthand, we live in a world filled with senseless violence, tragedy, and death. This isn’t the first, the only, or the last tragedy. We know that. But, this is OUR tragedy! As people of faith, we may wonder where God is when tragedies occur. Where was God last Wednesday? If he doesn’t come in power to intervene, where is he?
The cross is God’s answer. The wounded Lamb is God’s answer.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:2-6
“By his wounds we are healed.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The Cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go to in order to restore broken community.”
One of my seminary professors, Richard Hayes, writes, “God has chosen to save the world through the cross, through the shameful and powerless death of the crucified Messiah. If that shocking event is the revelation of the deepest truth about the character of God, then our whole way of seeing the world is turned upside down.”
God rarely shows up in force, at least as we see it. God rarely comes like a roaring lion. God comes as a wounded, sacrificed lamb.
` Where was God last Wednesday? God was with the pain. God was with the suffering. God was with those students, faculty, staff, and families huddled in fear. God was with the dying. God is with the injured. God is with the grieving. Wherever there is pain, suffering, fear, grief, God is there – holding us together, whispering words of comfort, promising that one day all will be made well.
One day all will be well – but, not yet. Until then, he suffers with us in our sorrow and our pain.
Reconsidering the Cross
Though my thoughts and emotions are scattered, I keep returning to a single thought. In light of this tragedy, and so many others like it, so many things seem so small and insignificant now. The things I fret over daily, pale compared to what we’ve lost.
But, as so much seems smaller, and less important, the cross looms larger, and more important, than ever before!
How often do we talk about the cross as the place Jesus died to make me a better person? How often do we talk about Jesus dying to save me from my bad habits? How many times do we think of the cross as the antidote for our insecurities and low self-worth? How many times do we treat the cross like a charm, as protection from bad luck? How many times is the cross little more than a fashion accessory to our otherwise unspiritual, worldly lives.
Yes, Jesus cares about small things. But, the cross is so much bigger.
When Jesus hung on the cross, by all appearances defeated and destroyed, he was dying for the sin of the entire world – yours, mine, everyone’s. He sacrificed himself so that the most broken stuff of this world could be restored. He was wounded to make us whole. He was wounded so that days like February 14, 2018 will not define history. On the cross, he carried the weight of every sin, of all pain and suffering, of every tragedy – including ours. With the 17 victims, Jesus was wounded too – with them, for them. He was wounded to make ALL things new.
He didn’t die to make things better. He died to make them NEW!
We may want a lion, to intervene in moments like this. God knows that. But, God knows we need a wounded Lamb, to be with us suffering; to carry our suffering, to redeem our suffering, to ultimately save us from our suffering. Wherever there is pain, darkness, and suffering, Jesus is there, bringing hope, restoration and redemption. Hopefully that is a comforting thought.
But, I also hope we can hear the whisper of the wounded Savior calling to us, the Church, “If anyone wants to be by follower, if anyone wants to claim me as Lord and Savior, they must deny themselves, pick up a cross and follow me, to join me in the dark, and the suffering, and the pain, to make this world new again!”
While we would do anything to turn back the clock, to stop the evil, to bring back the dead, we can’t. There is evil in this world, and terrible tragedies happen. God doesn’t always stop them – that is undeniably true. But, God has entered our darkest suffering, and is with us.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain — to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing… Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”