Last week, only a month after four people died in a shootout in downtown Colorado Springs, tragedy struck my community again. During a standoff between police and a gunman at a Planned Parenthood clinic, two civilians and one police officer were shot and killed (nine others were injured). Officer Garrett Swasey was a husband and father of two young children as well as a pastor and elder at his church. Although I didn’t know Officer Swasey personally, he and I attended the same young adult Sunday School class many years ago.
While I know there is unimaginable tragedy happening around the world every day, to have two deadly shootings take place in my own community in the past month makes it more real. How should Christians respond? Here are three things I think believers should remember in times of tragedy:
1. We have a bigger enemy. When tragedy happens, familiar conversations arise — a call for stricter gun laws, greater help for people with mental illness, the increased rights of particular groups, freedom and protection. These conversations can quickly become divisive as we seek to cast blame. Sadly, even Christians (at times, especially Christians) get caught up in these fruitless conversations.
The Bible tells us about God’s enemy, Satan, who exploits and takes pleasure in every evil act that happens in the world. His mode of operation is death and destruction. Jesus said of him: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV). What a contrast between what Jesus offers and what Satan offers.
Unfortunately, Satan’s ploy in times of tragedy is to attempt to get Christians to join the fray instead of loving harder and standing in Christ against the true enemy. If Satan can get you feeling smug that you have it all figured out, or if he can get you to fight lesser battles, he can render you useless to God’s kingdom of love and light.
2. Tragedy is inevitable, but peace is found in Christ. Tragedy always comes as a shock. In response to last Friday’s shooting, President Obama said, “This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal.” Unfortunately, in a world where God’s enemy is active and sin is rampant, tragedy is normal. Jesus told His disciples it would be when He told them, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
While we can be grieved and appalled by violence and evil in our world, we should not be surprised. And we need not feel hopeless. We have a Savior who has already overcome everything this world can dish out. That is the message we need to be sending to those around us.
3. Tragedy is an opportunity. In a recent article, David Crabb talks about the controversy surrounding whether the United States should take in Syrian refugees. He writes:
The key question seems to be this: In light of terror attacks worldwide, is bringing 10,000 refugees from the Middle East really a safe decision?
While we shouldn’t downplay these concerns, I do wonder what would happen if Christians stood counter to American culture on this issue, by asking fundamentally different questions. What if, while America was asking questions about safety and risk management, Christians were asking, What is God doing? What if, through the senseless evil of civil war, God was bringing unreached people groups to our cities? What if, through great tragedy, God was bringing about the triumph of the gospel?
I agree with Crabb that when tragic circumstances arise, Christians ought to be asking different questions. What is God doing? What is the opportunity for the Gospel here? After all, the story of hope began with a tragedy, and our God has a way of bringing triumph out of it.