“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”
Darkness kicked down the door again. As the news broke about the horrific events in Las Vegas, the collective conscience of the nation sighed. Not again. For a moment we convinced ourselves, naively so, that innocence recovered after the last mass shooting. We remember, but try to move forward. The world stops for a moment, but it won’t stop moving—unless you’re the victim’s family.
So much confusion and pain surround this most recent shooting. How does a moment of American frivolity turn into an American horror story in a matter of minutes? Why did he do it? How did he do it? Are mass gatherings safe anymore? And, even more pressing, how do we prevent this from happening again? There is no shortage of politicians who seem to know the answer to this last question. Yet solutions are always short-lived; nothing ever substantive comes from these discussions.
That evening, I held back tears as I prayed with my family at the dinner table. There was a certain amount of guilt at the comfort I felt watching my kids play in the back yard as I grilled. There was also a certain amount of responsibility, to enjoy the moment and redeem the time. I may not be here tomorrow. I realized that, for some, there weren’t any more back yard moments. No laughter in the sun. No bubbles blowing in the wind or picking wild flowers. Just silence. And pain. So much pain.
Where does Christianity belong in a world like this? Does the church really have a place when there is so much darkness? Of course, this is exactly the type of world in which the church belongs. This world of crisis is the old homestead of a religion which embodies, quite literally, the suffering and darkness of a world gone wrong. It’s sometimes hard to remember in our Americanized Christianity that the world in which Jesus lived was brimming with evil and violence. Yes, he laid in a manger at birth, but because he was fleeing a homicidal despot. His life ended in betrayal, torture, and with an indescribably painful death. The personification of the word “innocence” was brutally and shamefully massacred. The heart of Christianity is a story about a grand rejection; a fear filled story of brutal darkness that eclipsed the sun. Pain, agony, despair, and terror come together to weave the fabric of the message we call “good news.”
Of course, that isn’t the end of the story—and, this isn’t the end of the story in Las Vegas either. A stone rolled away. A tomb was empty. A Savior was glorified. Hope and victory were given. This really is good news.
Within Jesus’ story we see the Christian’s response to tragedy in a world of crisis: to embody the gospel. To recognize pain, agony, and sudden tragedy as a part of this confusing world broken by sin. At times, we even absorb this rejection and suffering as we follow the way of the cross. Regardless of whether your suffering is due to your faith, it is an inevitable path that will be crossed by most disciples. Jesus made it clear in Luke 9:22-23:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
There is only one place that path leads: to Calvary. Yet, this command was followed by the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). This placing seems intentional. Yes, death and darkness were a part of Jesus’ mission (as is ours in this world), but that was just the beginning of the story. Glory would soon follow on the mountain. The way of inevitable suffering leads to unimaginable glory. In the person of Jesus, we see God’s determined purpose to redeem and glorify his people through the way of the cross. This is an indescribably encouraging message. That, whatever suffering a Christian endures as he follows the way of Jesus, whether it is due to his confession or not, will be followed by eternal pleasure.
Scripture informs us that life is short and fleeting; that moments of temporal happiness can vanish as soon as they are realized and enjoyed. But it also promises great hope, great redemption, immense, unconquerable, incorruptible justice, grace, and love which will flood the world in unimaginable glory at the return of our king. It promises abundant life. Through the victory of Jesus in the resurrection we can still live today, this day, with untouchable courage, recognizing that we have committed our existence to the ever-preserving hand of our Father.
Life doesn’t always make sense. There are mysteries, confusion, and questions that surround us every day. Scripture recognizes this mystery and calls for us, not to have every question answered, but to discover God as the answer to every question. Because, in him and with him, is promised an eternal existence not tainted by sin, wickedness, or natural disasters. He promises millions of moments of unfettered freedom, never blemished by the fear of death or pain.
It is to this hope that the gospel calls us, and it is because of this call that the gospel belongs in this world; a world of violence, pain, and suffering. It calls us to the Savior, who for us, endured such terror so that we can conquer death through faith in his victory. This is the story we are called to embody as people of God in moments of tragedy: to mourn with those enduring the Friday darkness of Calvary’s shadow, but to speak the hope-filled truth of resurrection Sunday. Our world often misses the message of Christianity. The promotion of sin and the church’s justifiable response often overshadows the crucial point of Jesus: to kick death in teeth. To break the cycle of bondage and misery that sin brings. To crack a smile at the side of the casket. Death is no more. Blessed be the name of Jesus.
Faith really is the victory that overcomes the world. It is the legislation that chains the despair of a sin-sick world. Christians are the only ones that can fulfill this mission. I’ve heard the responses of the world after every tragedy and they simply aren’t enough. They are well intentioned but fall far short of the heavy burden of death that clings to the air. The church, and the church alone, must be the “Amen”—the final, substantive voice of truth, hope, and joy in moments of crisis. Because we follow our Lord who softly whispers:
“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”