Eugene Cho

Making sense of something so senseless: The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Conn-school-shooting-vigil-jpg

How do you make sense of something so senseless? That is what I hope to address in this post.

Like all of you, I was initially stunned and shocked to read the news. I was in the middle of an amazing day long church staff retreat and development day when I glanced at the headlines on the internet and couldn’t believe what I had just read.

The shock turned into utter heartache.

These were some of my thoughts over the course of the day via my Twitter account.

Heartbroken.

Heartbroken. Grieving. Devastated. Speechless. Praying for those impacted in the Connecticut school shootings – especially the children. #lordhavemercy

A Time to Mourn & Weep…

Whatever your views, we should all agree on this: We must do all that we can to protect children – your kids, my kids, their kids, & our kids.

There’s a time to argue issues and there’s a time to just grieve, mourn, and weep.

NOW is that time to grieve, mourn, and weep.

Don’t Move on…

When we just move on with our day and “normal” after such tragic news…herein lies one problem: We’ve become desensitized to violence.

Three words: “Don’t move on.”

How do we make sense of such senselessness?

And this is the question.

This is the question that so many are having; the question that parents are having with their children; and the question that many pastors and leaders will be having this Sunday with their congregations. Faith worldview or not, we are left with this question.

While we don’t have to have all the answers and in fact, unless you’re God, you won’t have all the answers, I found this useful about what NOT to share because we have to take the wisdom of “mourning with those who mourn” seriously. We have to mourn well with others and as such, there are – bluntly – stupid Christian phrases that are said that should be avoided altogether when someone is mourning the loss of a child:

1. “God just needed another angel.”

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents.

2. “Thank goodness you have other children,” or, “You’re young. You can have more kids.”

Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.

3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.

The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents’ hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.

4. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn’t come from God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.

5. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.

Unless you are God, don’t use this line.

But back to the question: “How do we make sense of senselessness?”

The blunt truth is that it’s so difficult and impossible to address this question without talking about the reality of evil, sin, and brokenness.

We live in a broken world.

And the irony of so many of these devastating tragedies is that we want to remove God from so much of our cultural expression and embodiment and the ever awkward dance between the separation of church and state (which I understand) and yet, we so easily turn our blame on God for so much that is tragic and broken in our society.

We live in a broken world.

And in this broken world, there will be painful, difficult, and horrible events. As much as we want to shield ourselves – and especially our children – that truth is evident all around – and even within us. Even Jesus himself cautions us in John 16:33 that “in this world, there will be trouble.”

We live in a broken world.

But listen: this is not meant to be fatalistic or to offer a theological magic cop-out for God or for us – but to simply illuminate what should be obvious: the world is very broken.

On our own, there can be no sense of a senseless world. There is nothing sensible. On our own, we can’t find anything redemptive or meaningful in the utter brokenness and depravity of the world. We want to make sense; We want to put the pieces together; We want to fix together. We want to lean on our own understanding and brilliance to make it work and make sense…but we can’t.

How can we?  How can we find meaning in the senselessness when we ourselves are the main culprits of that nonsensibility.

The ‘redemptive’ news – in the micro-narrative of this shooting and the meta-narrative of human history is that Jesus entered our dark, broken, and messy world. God loved the world so much that He sent his only son, Christ, so that he would come to die and reconcile the sins of a broken world. This – in spite – of a broken and rebellious world.

As we rightfully and appropriately mourn and grieve, we can’t make sense of this senselessness without a perspective of something greater than our utter brokenness. As the mourning and grieving     s  l   o   w   l   y   turns to healing, we have to point people towards the Gospel.

I believe in a Gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the One that ushered forth all that is good & beautiful.

During this season of Advent of waiting and anticipating, we are truly reminded again that Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God but yet, it is not fully here.

We wait for Christ to return to restore all things but while we wait,
we partner with God to work towards that restoration.

We wait but it is not a wait of passivity but one of activity and conviction.

How about the issues?
Gun control and mental illness?

Yes. and. Yes.

Guns will always be part of the American culture. But this conversation should have happened yesterday. Why? Because just consider the number of violent incidents and mass shootings in this country. Since Columbine in 1999, there have been 31 school shootings. This is the 2nd shooting just this past week (Clackamas, Oregon shopping mall). Seattle had a tragic shooting at Cafe Racer Espresso in May of this past year. How about the shootings at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO. How about the shootings a the Sikh temple?

I can go on but this is a time to mourn, grieve, and weep…

My wife, Minhee, is a therapist and while she is a Marriage and Family therapist, much of her training and recent background has been focused on mental health and illness and she often shares with me the need to illuminate light and understanding to this often ignored conversation in our society.

Reminded of these words today:

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

~ Oscar Romero

* Honoring our teachers…

But in the midst of the tears, grateful for Ms. Roig – 1st grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary – and all the teachers, administrators, and educators in our society. We need to rally around them to let them know how much we appreciate their service.

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7 Responses

  1. KDavis says:

    Beautifully stated and right on point, Brother Cho, especially the five steps.

    I could say more about what I have observed about the church and mental illness and our general desensitization to violence, but I won’t for now.

  2. Michael Mills says:

    When I first saw this story on the news, yesterday morning, I found myself crying out to God:
    “Please, Lord, end this. End it now. How much longer will sin hold its power on this Earth? Please Lord, bring an end to it all.”

    Of course, I wasn’t jut thinking about Sandy Hook and the 20 precious children who were killed. I was thinking about all the tragedies and evil I’ve seen in my 62 years of life.

    I’ve given up trying to understand why God has allowed the consequences of sin to flourish as he has. At this point I can only pray:

    “Come, Lord Jesus. Come!”

  3. […] I’ve read many different responses to the tragedy, and this is one of the articles that resonated with me, as did this piece. […]

  4. Trine Smith says:

    Rev. you made the statement that guns will always be apart of America, I agree, however,clearly there is something absurdly wrong about the way they can have a gun expidition in one room of a building,then go into another in the same building and purchase crates of these weapons of mass destruction without any receipt of transaction (in essence under the radar, might I add). Some months ago I was made aware of this info while at my Congressmans office concerning my plight for justice, and while speaking to the Constituient laiason I initiated the conversation and went on to mention I had read an article by Russel Simmons and his advocacy against the NRA, and how I had been compelled to pray about this issue on the daily prayer line. It’s sad and inhumane that blood is continulally and senselessly spilt before effective gun control is exucuted, and for that much of the matter, its far too many guns in the public hands, it is at this point that breakthrough believers and image bearers must lament and intercede on behalf of the souls, spirits of every man, woman, and child on the face of this planet. I myself have felt the bitter sting of losing my first born nephew, 23yr old Michael Smith, and this tradegy occured not long after my Treasure-Lily’s untimely death.

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One Day’s Wages

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It appears I brought a little Seattle to the NYC. Drizzle fest. 24 hour gathering with a small group of leaders from around the country. Learning. Listening. Asking hard questions. Head exploding. Heart trying to have hope. As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it.

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