“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).
Sunny South Florida is under a dark cloud in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. A nation, once again shocked by senseless violence, asks, “What’s this world coming to?”
The pain of families and students crushed in the vice of anguish is more guttural. “’Oh my God! Oh my God!’ one student yelled over and over in one video circulating on social media, as more than 40 gunshots boomed in the background.”
Horror, shock, grief and pain are not the emotions we associate with Valentine’s Day. But one cannot escape the irony that such cruelty came on a day reserved to celebrate love.
We are not feeling love, we are feeling pain. C.S. Lewis, one very familiar with grief and pain, wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Perhaps you are asking, “God, what do you have to say to us in our pain?”
I think it was a seminary professor who told me, “If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.” Jesus is God with skin on. Looking at Jesus I feel the love, I hear the concern, I sense the care in the midst of the pain. Read his words again.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus spoke to his bewildered disciples on the verge of his crucifixion. His words to them are words for us:
To the grieving he says, “I care.”
If there is anything that says “care” it is presence, and Jesus was present. Jesus did not tweet, record a podcast or write a blog post. He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with his disciples. He peered into hurting eyes, put a hand on a trembling shoulder and spoke heart-to-heart.
Jesus’ actions tell me that no matter how I feel, God cares. It was Jesus’ care that drove him into this world. It was Jesus’ care that drove him through dusty streets and violent crowds. It was Jesus’ care – his love – that drove him to the cross.
Philip Yancey writes, “The fact that Jesus came to earth where he suffered and died does not remove pain from our lives. But it does show that God did not sit idly by and watch us suffer in isolation. He became one of us. Thus, in Jesus, God gives us an up-close and personal look at his response to human suffering.”
In short, he cared! This care was not “just for the disciples.” It was for all of us. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Yes, he still cares. He cares for broken-hearted mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and family. He cares about their grief and yours.
Knowing that, we can run to him, grieve before him and cry out to him.
To the questioning he says, “I am in control.”
Violence and tragedy have a way of dragging God into the courtroom; “How could a good God allow such a thing?”
Let me return to Philip Yancey: “The Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?”
Pain is our response to a shattered “happily ever after.” Pain is our outrage over injustice. Pain is our grief intensified by the mystery of unanswered questions.
In these times we want to know: “WHY must we endure such pain?”
Jesus does not answer that question. Instead, he speaks the obvious – “In this world you will have trouble.” But he does not stop there. He points me past the trouble and the pain. He points me to himself. He says, “I have overcome the world.”
Even as soldiers descend and a cross appears on the horizon, Jesus wants me to understand he is working out a bigger plan. These days are hard. Tomorrow will be better. My sacrifice guarantees that. I am in control. I am working out my plan.
To the fearful he says, “Take heart.”
“Take heart” is sentimental stuff, unless the one who utters it can deliver on it. Jesus does. Jesus’ walk to the cross is the beginning of his victory march. On that cross he conquered sin and death.
Politicians will bemoan gun control. Cultural critics will decry the violence of the video gaming industry. Some social scientists will blame family breakdown.
Jesus goes to the heart of the matter – the human heart. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Anyone looking at yesterday’s carnage whispers, “You can say that again.”
School shootings are ultimately a heart problem. The good news is Jesus solves the heart problem for those who trust him, and will one day return to restore the world shattered by the wicked hearts that don’t.
In the interim – in our pain – we grieve. But we grieve with hope in a good God, we grieve in the arms of a caring family, and we grieve with the confidence of a better day.
We take heart.
Tommy Kiedis is the senior pastor at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” from “Florida School Shooting: ‘No Words’ as 17 Die in a Barrage of Bullets” by Audra D. S. Burch and Patricia Mazzeifeb. New York Times, February 14, 2018. www.newyorktimes.com Accessed February 15, 2018.
“Pain insists upon being attended to. . . .” From C.S. Lewis, The Problem Of Pain. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1996. Page 91.
“The fact that Jesus came to earth . . . ” from Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1977. Page 229.
“The Bible consistently changes the questions . . .” from Where Is God When It Hurts, page 95.