A day after the San Bernadino shootings a front-page headline trumpeted “God Isn’t Fixing This”. The article was critical of leaders who, in the wake of earlier shootings (and there have been way too many), did not enact gun control measures. Instead, there was a steady stream of leaders expressing their condolences and offering prayer for the victims and their families. The sentiment offered by this headline underscores a sense of outrage not only over the senseless murders of groups of people, but also a feeling that we seem unable to agree as a nation on a way to tackle this problem. Some people say more guns are needed to stem the violence. Others say fewer guns would make things safer. But there’s a growing sense that faith needs to take a greater role in dealing with what feels like an epidemic. I’d like to offer just a few thoughts on how we might react as people of faith.
First, it’s very important to stay calm and not overreact. Keep in mind that the media we rely on to inform us about these tragedies is for profit. They have a vested financial interest in sensationalizing these events and making viewers/readers/listeners feel as though such a tragedy is about to happen to them. That environment of sensationalism and the creation of a sense of insecurity are what makes people tune in. It is not the reality of the situation. The odds that any one of us will die in this kind of shooting are still infinitesimally low. Beware of politicians and pundits who encourage you to internalize this threat. We serve a God who tells us “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Second, we need to maintain our commitment to caring. It’s very easy to become numb to the violence when it seems as though there is no end and no solution. Violence has to matter to us regardless of who the victims or the perpetrators are. Jesus ministered to people who were overwhelmed and numb from suffering under the cruel boot of the Roman Empire. And yet his message was that people matter to God. He reminded his followers that God had the hairs on their heads numbered. God has numbered the hairs on the heads of the victims, as well as the perpetrators, of these awful crimes. We still need to care that this is going on in our communities.
Finally, we need to take action. A measured response to tragedies like this one is to care for the vulnerable, reach out to people who are different from you, and embrace your neighbors. In short, to embody Christ’s love. We will be safer and more connected if we deal with our grief and anger in this manner.
This holiday season pray for those who have lost loved ones in the ongoing spate of violence that seems to overwhelm us. But remember that prayer is simply not enough. We have to “apply our faith” to our reaction. We are called to love our enemies. That’s easier said than done. But for us it is the way we imitate the one who suffered for our salvation.