From time to time when I’m watching TV, the program I’m watching will be interrupted with an announcement of “breaking news”. The implication here is that something just happened or is about to happen that is so important that I can’t wait until the regular 6 or 11 PM newscast to hear about it. Usually the “breaking news” is followed by one or more news people repeating and explaining what I have just heard. As though I needed an interpretation of what was just reported.
After a few minutes of this I usually express my opinion to myself that there was nothing in their “breaking news” to justify this interruption. However, occasionally such interruptions are justified. The event being reported is so important that it cannot wait until the usual news hour. As the whole world knows by now, that was the case with the “beaking news” on the afternoon of Friday, December 14 – the killing of 20 children ages 6 and 7 and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
As I listened to that report, my immediate response was not my usual “this report could have waited”. My immediate response was ” Not again. Another mass killing of helpless innocent people. This is hopeless.” The next thing that came to my mind was the organization which Patty and I operate – Ray of Hope Ministries, which right now consists of this web-site Today’s Enlightenment. The overall purpose of our ministry is to give people what we all need – HOPE – in what all too often seems to be a hopeless world. I asked myself “how can I write about hope when right now the world does look hopeless to me”?
As I listened to and read about the details of this horrible news the rest of Friday, and then on Saturday and Sunday, it all continued to feel hopeless. I kept hearing people ask the same basic question – WHY?
“Why did this happen?”
“Why did the gunman to do this?”
“Why did so many children have to die?”
“Why did God let this happen?”
Then I heard people trying to answer these “Why” questions. I heard people say such things as:
“He was just a crazy man”
“If those kids weren’t killed by this gunman, they would probably have died some other way, like being hit by a car”
“There’s nothing anyone can do to stop this killing.”
“It was just time for their lives to end in this world. God wanted them home with Him in heaven.”
“Everything happens for a reason”. (As a pastor, I’ve discovered that what this really means is that God must have had a reason for either causing or allowing this to happen, and it’s not for us to know why).
The more I heard what everyone was asking and answering about this and other mass shootings over the past almost 20 years, the more angry I became. I became angry with myself for being among those who were feeling that there was no hope. I was angry with myself for not being able to answer the question “Where is the Hope”?
Where is the Hope? That’s the question I was asking. On Sunday evening God provided me with an answer. Earlier in the day I noticed in the TV schedule that there would be an ecumenical prayer service held in Newtown, CT. My first thought was that it would consist of a bunch of people rehashing the same questions and answers that had been coming out since the disaster. But I decided to check it out anyway, believing that whatever was said or done, would be well-meaning, if not very useful. And maybe someone would say something that would be helpful, and at least give me some hope.
As I said, God provided an answer to the question “Where is the Hope”? The Hope was in the place you would least expect to find it. Right there in Newtown, CT. I saw Hope being fulfilled in the cooperative service led by the clergy of all the religious faiths in the town, with participation by members of secular government – a representative of the local governing body, the Governor of Connecticut, and the President of the USA. I saw Hope in the presence of the people of the town, from all walks of life, including the first responders, and especially the families of those who were killed. I saw Hope in the presence of many people from out of town, who didn’t even know those who were killed or their families. I saw Hope in the millions of people in nations around the world who saw and heard this service on TV or the internet. It stuck me that if there is anything positive in a tragedy such as this it is that people of many faiths and people of no religious faith, are led to come together in settings where they can experience of the loving presence of God and each other. It struck me that I was one of those millions of people around the world who was seeking and finding answers to the question Where is the Hope?
I really appreciated the honesty and encouragement of all who spoke during that service. No one claimed to have an ultimate explanation. Why did this happen? The honest answer is that we don’t know. At the same time we heard that while we cannot know the ultimate answers now, we cannot use that as an excuse not to take steps to prevent these things from happening in the future. We cannot get away with saying it’s all in God’s hands, so we can’t do anything about it.
So what can we do? What should we do? We need to begin by seeking God’s will as to what to do and how to do it. We need to accept that we cannot do everything that needs to be done in a short time, but we can begin to make decisions and act on those decisions soon. God will ultimately do what must be done. But God also wants to use us now to participate in the work He is doing and will do.
As individuals in all walks of life, regardless of social and economic status, race, religion, or nationality – all of us – we need to seek God’s will. We also need to do this collectively – as families, as social groups, as members of religious faiths, as local communities, as and as a nation. We need to ask what it is that God wants us to do (or what God wants to do with us). We need to ask God how we can do our part to begin to prevent the kind of violence we are experiencing all too often in the USA. Specifically, I believe we need to seek God’s guidance as to what we are to do about guns, about mental health, and about safety related changes we need to make in our schools, as well as in commercial and public facilities everywhere. Then we need to listen for and wait for God’s answers. Upon hearing those answers we need to say “yes” to whatever God says. Agree to work with God. Expect that God will make it possible for each of us to do our part. Use whatever God gives us to do our part.Believe that “with God all things which God desires are possible”. Finally, get with God and as the saying goes, JUST DO IT.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, it is an especially good time to ask -“Where is our Hope”? And it is a good time to listen to the answer – “Our Hope is in the Lord”. As we celebrate the arrival of a new year it is a time to renew our Hope. Hope that was promised on that first Christmas, when God literally came into this world in the form of a human baby named Jesus. Who would grow up to become a man who would live, serve, suffer, and die with the ultimate purpose of transforming the world and all of its people in such a way that the kingdom of God will be fully established on earth as it is in heaven. A world in which there will be nothing but peace, live, and joy.
Grace and peace, Ray