There were times, not so long ago, when mourning was the first response to tragedy. This is appropriate. When 9.11 happened, there was a global coming together that simply grieved the catastrophic loss, acknowledging, before any rush to response or solution, that the world is not meant to be this way. Waves of grief and anger over “the way it is” rise up in the human heart when tragedy happens.
Or should, at least. In Ezekiel 18:32 God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone” In John 11, Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept tears of grief, because death is an intrusion in our fallen world – a source of profound loss, sorrow, and separation.
These days though, there’s no time for mourning. The blood wasn’t dry on the floor before this tragedy was politicized. Islamaphobia. Homophobia. Gun Control. ISIS. Immigration policy. NRA. Ban on assault weapons. Blame Obama. Mock Trump, or praise him. Why mourn, when you can blame, or use the event to justify your worldview?
Here’s an observation friends: this is sick
Our rush to judgement is a cultural disease, the natural fruit of our increasing inability to listen, think, and learn a bit before talking. I was in Austria when Sandy Hook occurred and the first things I read in social media had to do with blaming the NRA, or declaring preemptively that “the gun control liberals will use this to steal our guns”. Heated rhetoric, even before the children were buried. An alligator steals a child from a theme park, and before his body has even been found, people are lecturing the parents about “responsible parenting”. The biggest mass shooting in American history happens and before there’s a single funeral, Muslims are blamed. Immigration debates fill the air. Christians are blamed. Guns are blamed. And those blamed respond with a whiplash of defensiveness.
Lost in all of it is the time honored tradition, in nearly every culture in the world, to “mourn first – thoroughly – and then respond” The cost of this loss will be huge, is already huge – because what’s happened is that all of us are now constantly at war, with each other. Constantly on the defensive, or to avoid that, on the pre-emptive offense.
Job’s friends may not have assessed Job’s problems accurately, but at least they had the decency to mourn with him a little bit before offering their misguided solutions. The same was true 15 years ago, when America, even the world, stopped for a week or so, and mourned. We were all angry. We were all learning new things about terror and waking up to the realization that our world had changed forever. But we held our tongues.
The Bible is a rich pool of lament for many reasons, one of which is that it allows the dissonance between the way the world is and the way the world ought to be to ferment in our spirits and souls. Such fermentation, born of compassion for victims of suffering and loss, strengthens our longings for the beauty of Christ’s reign to break into our world with full force. It’s only out from those deep longings, ripened in mourning, that the best wisdom of next steps will be born.
Last week was too busy for mourning for me. I was in meetings overseas from morning to night, and squeezing church work and sermon prep into the little margins. I barely saw the headlines, and then quickly saw the polarizing comments, coming from everywhere. Really! Everywhere. The weight of what happened didn’t hit me until yesterday, when I had some time to finally digest the event while sitting in the Frankfurt airport waiting to come home.
Today then, is a day of mourning for me – for one thing. The victims. Young lives were cut down too soon and while death is always tragic, it’s always the more so when the lives are young, still looking forward to most of their days.
Yes, the church must participate in robust and civil discourse about sexual ethics, gun control, gun rights, immigration, Islam, and more. Those are different topics for different days. But not today. Today I mourn…which begins with empathy, and compassion, which simply means, “to suffer with”. For God’s sake, and your own, learn compassion before anything else.
Again violence has taken young lives.
Again people woke in the morning not knowing their hours were numbered.
Again families of victims are faced with an unanticipated hole in their lives, with many parents facing the most difficult grief of all, the death of their own children. Of all the things that “aren’t supposed to happen”, this is near the top of the list.
Let your tears run down like a river day and night
As the beginning of the night watches
Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Life up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones… Lamentations 2