The recent massacre that took place in Newtown, Connecticut has caused many people to stop and ask “why?” I must confess, I have never been as greatly affected by school shootings in the past as I have by this most recent occurrence. Feelings of anger, confusion, and deep sorrow have been overwhelming these last few days.
The fact that I work with elementary school children on a daily basis is no doubt a huge reason that I have been so personally affected. Evil does not exist in an abstract form. It must have an actual physical expression. It is not just nameless victims… they are people. In this case for me, it has not simply been “another tragedy”, but God has used it to bring about a deeper sense of compassion for those who have been personally affected.
As I watched our kindergarteners walk in to the lunchroom today, I could imagine their faces, huddled into a corner, crying, as a man, driven by God only knows what combination of pain and rage, did the unthinkable. In this way, it became personal, and I share a deep sense of grief with those who have suffered. Beyond the grief though, I have struggled to come to grips with how a human being could possibly bring himself to do this.
It is one thing to mourn for those who are victims… but what about the gunman, Adam Lanza? This is where things get dicey for us, and we must examine the depths of our hearts, and the heart of God.
And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” – Luke 23:33-35
In the face of great pressure and imminent danger, mankind has been known to commit great acts of bravery and personal sacrifice. Victoria Soto, the teacher at Sandy Hook, who hid her students in cabinets, a closet and the bathroom to protect them while leaving herself in the line of fire is a beautiful example of loving sacrifice. It is one thing to forgive an atrocity against oneself, but I believe it is much harder to forgive when someone we love is hurt. To me, this is what makes the Luke’s report of Jesus forgiving his tormentors so extraordinary. As the Son of God, we must assume that he is fully aware of what these men have done to countless others who have come before Him… and will continue to come after Him. Roman soldiers were not known for their kindness… especially those whose job description was to inflict as much suffering as humanly possible. Jesus is not only asking the Father to forgive them for crucifying Himself, but to forgive them for all of the evil they have done… and will continue to do.
As I look at this, I see those areas of my heart that have not yet been touched by grace. I see the absolute beauty of God’s love and compassion, and my hopeless biases and judgments that somehow prevent me from expressing such a fantastic grace myself. My theology does not require me to believe that God “allows” evil such as this to take place for some mysterious purpose, but even so, I see His hand in the aftermath, bringing comfort, and somehow, exposing what I would like to think is righteous indignation, for what it is. Namely, another area of my heart that is not yet conformed to the image of Christ.
May God grant the grace to extend His love and compassion, not only to those who deserve it, but to those who don’t deserve it. This is exactly what He does, and if we claim to be followers of Christ, we must open ourselves up to be conduits of this grace.