I am a homeschooling, assault weapon restricting, prayer in schools advocating, former Marine, and a conservative Christian Church Pastor to boot. I probably fit nearly every category of person prone to pontificating in the face of such a tragic school shooting. Yet, it’s time for me to keep my mouth shut and my related political and high-minded moralizing opinions to myself. It’s time to lament.
There is hardly a dry eye in the entire country after the Sandy Hook School shooting. I have watched news reports speak of hardened veteran police officers being impacted by this like being hit with a sledgehammer to the heart. Personal friends and acquaintances are already blowing up Face Book with their “That’s why we home school…” mumbo jumbo. The blogosphere is alive with “That’s why we need stricter gun law” talk. I read a tasteless, albeit probably well intentioned, quippy little sign with a picture of a shirt that read something like “God, why is there so much violence in public schools?” Then apparently God replied saying “I don’t know, I’m not allowed in schools.”
These sorts of comments may just be basically knee-jerk reactions. People often have their two or three pet-peeve-esk topics that they just can’t help but bring up. I have a family member who can turn any conversation into what’s wrong with the current political administration, even when simply asked to pass the butter… “You know butter would sure be a lot better if were all manufactured in America!”
What happened today is that several little children and their family’s dreams of Christmas and every future Christmas were robbed from them. The same children, who dreamed of Santa Clause visiting their house last night, were visited by the Devil today. There is a time for debating political policy, advocating for safer schools, figuring out where we have gone wrong as a nation and how to regain a simple respect for the inherent value of the innocent, but that time isn’t today.
A Time for Everything
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
There will be a time to discuss gun laws. After all of the mindless mass shootings that have occurred this year, along with all of the gun violence in our land generally, surely that discussion isn’t going away.
Today we grieve. Today we mourn. Tonight we tuck our children into bed and hug them a little longer than normal. Tonight we remind our children of how desperately they are loved by us and if we are in a position to do so, we reach out in love and silent support of those who are directly affected by this, because as a people we are all affected by this.
There is a time for everything. Right now it is time to mourn, to grieve, to lament.
Words are not Enough Anyway
It is not the right time to discuss politics, this near the tragedy. What’s more, it is simply not enough to talk policy. The children and families affected by this are not matters of policy. They are flesh and blood. Human beings. Words like very sad, stricken with grief, pain, sorrow, loss, shock barely begin the encapsulate the full weight of emotion and spiritual and mental distress felt and experienced by those closes to this. We don’t need to casually grieve and then move on.
We need to lament the shooting of school children in Connecticut.
In a contributed essay to the book “Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, And Public Square,” (Sally Ann Brown and Patrick D. Miller, Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) Nancy J. duff writes “Against our tendency to deny the intensity of grief, there is a biblical tradition of lament, which allows the individual to express anguish and anger directly to God and before the community of believers. The Bible recognizes the overwhelming reality of grief that cannot be consoled… the church needs to turn to the biblical concept of lament to provide a space where people can express their sorrow before God and one another.”
While lament is so prominent in the Scriptures, sadly cliché, stoicism, dismissal, and other forms of deflection to pain and sorrow are more common in the Church today. The Church today wants so much to be prosperous that we forget that the greatest treasure in this life is the comfort of God. Sincerity in seeking God starts with an honest cry of the heart in sorrow lifted heavenward.
Words are not enough to express the suffering being experienced by those who suffer through this tragedy and words are not enough to bring comfort. Pain like this can only be lamented, wept over with tears or bewailed with groans.
We Need to Lament
The Nineteenth Century English essayist Thomas De Quincey wrote, “Deep is the plowing of grief! But oftentimes less would not suffice for the agriculture of God.” There are many examples of lament in the Bible. The book of Lamentations is of course the record of the pain of Israel and the sorrow of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of his people and subsequent Babylonian captivity of the people of God. Throughout the major and minor prophets the words of both God and the prophets are recorded with regard to the lament and sorrow of God over sin and the prophets weeping over the sin of their people and impending wrath of God.
Now is not the time for moralizing. It’s not the time for pronouncing judgments or demanding policy changes. The time will come for that. For now we lament. When we lament:
- We allow our hearts to mourn and our souls to be angry at the horror and injustice of this event.
- We are less likely to miss the human element of this event. We must cry out in pain so that we identify on a deeply personal and human level with those who cry out for the loss of a child, a friend, a mother, and father, and more. Lamenting, weeping from our souls, allows us to realize the reality of the actual pain of something that may only seem like a dream; like something distant, over there.
- We set aside our desire for vengeance and our false beliefs that we can solve the world’s problems apart from God’s plan and will.
- We set aside the false assumption that things like this can never happen to us. We realize through our allowance of grief that we are not scattered strangers. All humanity is swimming in a sea of oft-sorrow.
Now is the time for sorrow and mourning. Now is the time to look to God, hold onto one another, and join the Psalmist in his desperate cry. “ How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13)
Indeed, be not far from us now O Lord. We need you more than ever!