What Happens In Vegas Won’t Stay in Vegas

Dear Church,

We woke up this morning to learn about the deadliest shooting in U.S. History. This time it was in Las Vegas. A man opened fire on unsuspecting concert-goers from the 32nd floor of his hotel. As I read about the tragedy, I couldn’t help but think, “not again.” I experienced a weird mixture of sadness, anger, frustration, and also apathy. I’m running into what some call compassion fatigue. I think it’s the response our hearts resort to when life just seems too unbearable for too long with no sign of getting better. It’s why we stop reading the news, or turn the TV off in the middle of the report. We get tired of the all the bad news. And there’s been plenty of it recently: Charlottesville still burning in our conscience, hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and Houston, an administration that keeps making misstep after misstep, and now this – what do we make of all this destruction and hostility in the world?

I wish I could play the prophetic role for you. I wish I could say, “Thus saith the Lord…” and explain how 1-for-1, all of these events are the direct result of some prior action on someone’s part somewhere. We would see the cause and effect, nod our heads in resignation, and go on until the next tragedy unfolded. Obviously, I can’t do that. And what long-term good would it really do? In a funeral sermon for his daughter, John Claypool exposed the weakness of explanations, “it is always futile and unproductive to try to explain tragedy in some comprehensive way.”

So I won’t give you explanations, but I will try to give you some encouragement. As you process this latest (but certainly not last) tragedy, what postures and gestures should we assume? Here’s a couple of thoughts:

  1. Cry before you blame/solve. Resist the urge to get sucked into the pundit discussions about who is to blame for this and what public policies/measures need to be put into place to prevent it from happening. God’s Word tells us how wicked and depraved our hearts can be. God’s Word tells us how the world is so out of whack and how humanity is broken in the way it relates to one another. As I think about the family members of those who were murdered, as I think about the family members of the shooter who have to deal with the shame of being related to someone who has done such heinous evil, I can’t help but cry. Over the state of a world where someone can’t go to a concert without fearing for his/her life. Over the state of a world where someone is so angry and hurt that they will resort to such violence to express it. Over the state of a world where people are forced to say goodbye to loved ones in such sudden and terrible ways. This is awful. It’s totally within the biblical vocabulary to say so.
  2. Fight apathy. It’s easy to just shut our ears and hearts to what happened. There’s certainly enough distractions in our world to move us to the next headline. In some circumstances, we may need to mute all of the various perspectives on the event (see above). But fight becoming stoic and hardened to the pain of the world. How? You may want to pray for specific families affected. You may want to give to a survivor’s fund. You may want to talk with a friend or in your small group about how you are feeling and what it’s making you pray/do. Whatever you do, don’t just let it drift off into background.
  3. Remember why we are here. At the risk of getting a bit philosophical, C.S. Lewis once remarked that the world has always been a place of senseless tragedy, unspeakable violence, and unending sadness. Human history overflows with unexpected loss and grief. If it has always been this way, he goes on, what would make someone attribute the world’s creation to a good and just God in the first place? His conclusion is that perhaps the state of the world is the surest sign of the truthfulness of God’s goodness because from everything we’ve seen/experienced, no one would come up with that conclusion on their own. And maybe there’s an authentic way forward here. We know that this world is out of whack. In fact, everyone who’s feeling the pain of this is wondering the same – both Christian and not. We are here to tell the world through our tears, our powerlessness, and our frustration that this is not how it should be, but it’s the very world that Jesus entered into. And because he entered into this broken world and suffered the worst it could dish out, there’s another world that is now possible. Rather than having an immunized stance of explanation, we weep with the pain of the world and remember that Jesus knows this pain too.

In fact, the cross where Jesus died is also a place of tragedy. It, too, is a place where brutality and injustice was manifested for the world to see and feel. Yet, God was in the midst of it – both as a subject and an object – making it possible for real transformation to take place. And isn’t that what we really want? Not just prevention, but transformation. We long for a world where individuals are so healed and whole that this kind of violence is extinct. We long for a transformed world where systems cause human flourishing. We long for a world where God will say once and for all – NOT AGAIN. So in the meanwhile, keep on crying, keep on believing, keep on working, and keep on hoping. What we long for isn’t just our personal take on it. It’s what God has promised and will bring about. I can hold onto that even in the tears and frustration of it all.

2 thoughts on “What Happens In Vegas Won’t Stay in Vegas

  1. Thank you for this message. Compassion fatigue is a real thing- I know as a caregiver. I went to work today and had no time to give this most recent tragedy much thought. So many people, so many difficult issues…. I’m gonna have a good cry now and ask for God’s presence in the midst of it all.

  2. Enlightening, never heard about compassion fatigue. But correctly feeling it, just last week found out about death of a family member & now this. I am one of those empathy sensitive people so the multitude is difficult. Usually positive but has pulled me down a little. Thanks for the reflection away from the present focus and all the biblical tragedies, particularly the crucification. May out of this be an opportunity to shine Christ light of His comfort & teachings to focus on Him in prayer. We have to remember it is His plan, and He knows.

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