If you’ve reached emotional overload from all the coverage of the tragedy in Connecticut, or find that it is exacerbating your fear and anger at a broad range of people, turn it off. I honestly think too much of the kind of coverage we get in our media seriously warps our view of the world, either with more grief or anger than we’re equipped to bear for a circumstance you’re not even involved in, or by wiping out our emotional capital so that we won’t have it to give to the people around you. Television coverage does not exist to help you deal with this crisis, even though that’s how the newspeople portray themselves. Television exists for one purpose, to garner ratings by feeding whatever insatiable appetite the available audience has. The media wallows in tragedy by imposing their presence on grieving people and then trying to link the rest of us emotionally to the victims so we’ll be hooked on the grief. This week they used Newtown, CT as a production studio to shoot their latest product and when the audience is no longer interested, they’ll move on to the next calamity and invite us into that one as well. The fact is we don’t truly know these people and as sorry as we can be for what they are going through, we really can’t grieve with them in a way that matters to them. The end result is that we personalize a tragedy we’re not involved in and the ensuing publicity creates an anti-hero of the shooter that is likely encouraging another tormented soul to do something more heinous to garner even more attention for himself and his pain. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate reasons for us to be aware of an event like this, to have compassion for those whose lives have been destroyed, and to provide an opportunity for us to consider how we keep this from happening again. But that doesn’t demand we watch wall-to-wall coverage or think we’re helping others by doing so. It will use up your emotional strength that is better spent on people around you that you already know—young children who need love, or a teen misfit that may be contemplating something similar. Television gives us the illusion of community, while it actually splinters us even further from relationships where we can actually have an impact. We grieve alone in our own homes, for people we don’t know. And because we’re not involved there is no capacity to see how God’s grace is unfolding in people’s hearts who are part of this. For surely he his inviting people into a greater reality of his life and love. In the aftermath of evil he is always at work to bring life out of death. He doesn’t have to orchestrate tragedy to engage it, or to weave it into the tapestry of our lives for his good. And while that does not minimize the grief people bare who have lost someone significant in such a senseless and selfish act nor the comfort they will need to work through it, it does give us hope life doesn’t end with loss. I’ve thought a lot about evil in our world and its impact, not just about sudden tragedies like this one, but more systemic injustice that makes society incredibly unfair. Some have way too much and others far too little. Some seem to encounter one continuous struggle after another while others live in relative ease. Yes, difficulties can result from our own poor choices, but often it’s just the reality that pain is not distributed evenly and neither are material comforts and blessing. Some see that as God being unfair, but it is really a commentary on how humanity has marred the creation with its own inequities. God is the presence in the world that comforts the afflicted, he invites those with much into a generosity for those who have little, and offers to teach us to live differently so that they do not bring unnecessary pain on ourselves or others. I’ve known people who have suffered incredible tragedies and have come through into greater places of joy and compassion as God made himself known in their grief. Though nothing makes up for the loss of a loved one, God can hold people in that loss and bring them into a wider space of knowing him. I know a couple whose only child was murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre. She had only been away at college for a few months. When I hear them talk of Father’s comforting love, it reminds me how much bigger God is than the evil in the world, and though he doesn’t stop it all he never stops inviting people into his life. Though the Psalmist promises that God will defend the widow and orphan against the oppressor, and that he will deliver the righteous from affliction, we know that doesn’t always happen in this life. Too often evil prevails. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. Many of our early brothers and sisters were beaten and stoned for their faith. Many children have died in war and of hunger, and some have battled debilitating diseases all their lives. Is it fair that some have it more difficult than others? This age can be incredibly cruel, but God’s measure of justice will go far beyond this age. His perspective encompasses all eternity and told us that true wisdom would as well. Our life in this world is like the dew on the morning grass, it is only a very small part of why God created you. If we only measure our lives by what happens here, we will have a distorted view and end up discouraged and hopeless. That’s why Jesus told us to invest our treasures beyond this life and to keep our eyes on things above where hope and joy prevail of the pain and sufferings of this life. And I’m not talking specifically about just getting into heaven hear or escaping hell. I was taught that at the end of the age God those who have “accepted Jesus” go to heaven and those who haven’t go to hell. I don’t find Scripture pre-occupied with that question. It doesn’t invite us to “accept Jesus”, but come to engage God as our Father through the work of the Son. Salvation is in knowing him, not jumping through some religious hoops. (I am trying to avoid a discussion about hell and what it is, because that isn’t the point of this piece. If you want to know my thoughts about that you can listen to this podcast.) Our life here is preparation for what lies beyond. That’s where God will make sense of this age. I can’t be too specific here because Scripture only hints of realities I don’t think we can even imagine on this side of it. But it is clear that God’s justice will prevail and the inequities of this life will be resolved by him. The oppressed will be vindicated and righteousness rewarded in ways that the world systems do not. I’m pretty sure we’ll be surprised about who is honored and in what ways. It won’t follow the values of this world, even our religious one. For sure we will all get to see our lives as they really were, owning our failures and celebrating our faithfulness. This won’t have any of the guilt, or sorrow in it as we think of it, because shame will be gone and there will be no competition with each other. This is not God embarrassing us by parading our sins in front of everyone else, but giving us the opportunity to participate in his kind of healing that involves confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in a celebration of grace. That’s the way his kingdom is. We’ve all done destructive things, whether they’ve been out of willful choice, broken places in our lives, or in complete ignorance. Maybe we’ll get the chance to sit down with those we’ve wronged in this age and have the opportunity to engage them beyond the self-protection of our flesh and the shame of sin. To have the chance to right our wrongs, to confess openly and be forgiven graciously, and to forgive freely is the essence of heaven’s impact on human relationships. I am finding that to be one of the greatest works of God in this age and what brings the greatest joy in human relationships. Now that we’re uncovering more of who Sara really is, I am quite aware now of things past that I’ve said and done that were heard and felt differently than I intended. Being able to see that now through her eyes and own it with her continues to be a great joy for both of us. She has no desire that I grovel in the pain of it, and I have no need to hide from it. We’ve both been blessed at the discoveries we’re making and it has deepened our relationship and our joy with each other. When you’re free of guilt and shame, you can truly deal with our brokenness and the pain we’ve caused others in a wonderfully healing way. I can imagine a lot of that happening in eternity, and it is probably one of the best ways we get to participate in eternity now. Holding grudges, covering up our mistakes, and judging others only drives us to further despair and hopelessness. Owning our failures, seeking forgiveness, and freely giving it to others is what breaks the power of evil and brings hope for the future. If you want to be the antidote to selfishness and evil in the world, live there! In the end evil will be destroyed and God’s triumph will remain. We get to taste that here in his comfort at our loss, his interventions on our behalf, and in the way we love others. But we await a day when we will revel in the fullness of his triumph for eternity. Life lived in that reality is full of great hope and joy even in the midst of tragedy. That’s what Scripture encourages us to place firmly in our minds. There is trouble in this world, but we do not need to fear because he will overcome the world. Christ in us is the hope of glory, not getting what we think we deserve in this age. No we don’t yet see all things subject to his will and desires, but we will. Now we see him and can take great comfort in the fact that he will get the last word on everything going on in this world. He just hasn’t had it… yet!
And on a personal note, Sara and I want to pass along our Christmas blessings to all of you–that you would know the warmth, peace, and joy of his presence this season and into the new year. We are so blessed by all the people God has connected us to around the world and are warmed by the incredible Christmas greetings we have received from so many of you. Please know that you hold a special place in our hearts and we pray God will continue to draw you ever-closer to his heart and set you ever-more free in his life. Merry Christmas.