Very early this morning, tragedy struck Dayton, Ohio when a man decided to open fire on a group of people out for a night of dancing and fun.
This on the heels of a similar tragedy in El Paso, Texas. Last I saw, 29 dead in all. Dozens injured. While the media machine and political operatives focus on the guns, I cannot stop thinking about the men (has there been a female mass shooter?) involved.
Understanding why these things keep happening is fraught with problems. There are too many variables. Mental health is at the middle of all of this, and it keeps being ignored. Glorification of gun violence in entertainment has its impact. Gun laws – maybe in some cases, though I contend that where there is a will it shall find a way. The proliferation of news beats images into our brains. Etc. Etc.
So, this morning I pulled off my shelves a few great books of note about suffering, pain and evil.* I needed reminded about the realities of the world through Jesus’ eyes. He is my plumb line because I believe he represents the best picture we can have of the character of our Creator. When we ask God why – why did it happen? Why did you not step in? Why isn’t anything changing? – we can get ourselves into a theoretical jam.
One thing all these writers have in common is the idea of free will. Gregory Boyd talks about two Christian views of what happens in the world. The ‘blueprint view’ says that everything that happens is part of God’s plan. It is His will so we must go with it. The ‘warfare view’ understands the world’s events, large and small, as part of a battle. You are probably familiar with both. The first I find fatalistic and says that we do not have choices. I do not belief this.
In the second view, each spiritual creature has the freedom to choose every day, every second really. Good and evil battle it out on the physical plane and the spiritual. And it has been going on for a long time, creating a knotty jumble of cause and effect. As Mark Lutz puts it in What is Wrong with People:
What is happening is not the unfolding of a script, but the waging of a war. Evil is clashing with good, and we are caught in the crossfire. In general, bad things happen to everybody, because some free-will agents have been choosing “not God” for a long time. The consequences of those choices have been compounding, one upon the other in more and more complex interactions. Today, it is nearly impossible to know exactly why any one specific tragedy has been thrust upon a particular person (p. 20-21).
The picture that comes to my mind an enormous tangle of sting. Another visual might be ripples at stone makes in a pond. If every decision made by man or spirit is pebble thrown into the water, the ripples of each move the ripples of the others.
I am not sure all my reading and searching this morning helped me feel any better about the shootings, and when one hits so close to home it is a bit unnerving. But it has reminded me that I am a casualty of war, and our barricades have many holes in them. I have set aside that idea for a while now, and it has not done me any favors mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
I am also reminded that on a spiritual level “why” is not the right question to ask in these cases. It is lost in that ball of string.
The better question to ask is “what.” What should I do in light of this? What am I to learn? For those of us personally affected by tragedy, there is an additional question. How am I to move forward?
I have given up on politics as the answer to anything. I would like to see changes and meaningful help for mental illness. I would love it if violent videos games would disappear. So, what am I going to do?
My plan is to stand in the breach in the wall. If our battle is partly in the heavenlies, the front lines of the war are all around, and my best weapon is prayer. For the battle fields on earth, I will continue to fight for mental health. I may not be able to affect national change, but I can be a warrior with people God puts in my path.
These tragedies also remind me that daily struggles and heartbreak abound. I can cry with people, be with people, hold a hand, bring some food, do what good neighbors do to help one another. The battle wages on, but I know Who wins and what His character is through Jesus. That has made all the difference.
Boyd, Gregory A., (2003). Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Frankl, Viktor E.,(1959, 1962, 1984). Man’s Search for Meaning.New York, New York: Pocket Books, Simon & Schushter.
Lewis, C. S., (1940/1996). The Problem of Pain.New York, New York: HarperCollins.
Lutz, Mark, (2015). What is Wrong with People?Minneapolis, Minnesota: Mill City Press.
Yancy, Phillip, (1988). Disappointment with God.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
Uncredited photos from Wix.com.