Eugene Cho

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


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. 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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Let's fully welcome refugees. Remember, refugees aren't terrorists...they're the ones fleeing away from violence, war, and terrorism. 
Afraid? Me too. It's ok to acknowledge we're afraid since it confirms we're all...just...human. We're all afraid on some level especially when our culture seems to run on the currency of fear but as we live out our faith in Christ and more deeply embody compassion and love, fear begins to dissipate. It's also incredibly critical to know that agencies are implementing some of the most rigorous and thorough vetting ever. 
My family hosted a Somalian Muslim family from a refugee camp years ago through @WorldRelief. It was eye opening, challenging (especially with language realities), and yet, encouraging...and we hope to host families again in the future as they resettle in a completely new and foreign city and country. It's a terrifying experience. And while not a refugee, I remember the first few months as an immigrant when I was six years old. To this day, I remember the kindness of folks that helped us through that transition. Lift a prayer for me as I'm privileged to collaborate in ministry here in Melbourne, Australia. Meeting with local pastors, teaching at the Justice Conference (10/21-22). Then, preaching at the Bridge Church on Sunday  Pray that in preaching the whole Gospel from the Scriptures, I may honor God, point people to Jesus, and be sensitive to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Interesting. The holy bench. Wow. And in a blink of an eye, this happened. The nights might be long but the years go by fast. #ParentProverbs #WhatHappenedToMy13YearOldSon This past week, @seattlequest celebrated its 15th Anniversary. In many ways, it feels like forever and in other ways, it just seemed like we just started yesterday.

Around May 2000, Minhee and I found out we were expecting a 2nd child. Then, we got another surprise. We felt a calling and stirring to plant a church. We told God, "This is horrible timing!" We left a thriving ministry that we started in the Seattle surburbs and felt compelled to move into the city to plant a new multiethnic church called Quest. To be honest, we were so scared. Minhee was pregnant. Our insurance was about to run out. But we ventured forth. Once I resigned from this church, I had plans, goals, strategies...and none of them materialized. Only bills and payments. I quickly found out that a Masters of Divinity degree - as cool as it may sound - is actually useless in society. No one wanted to hire me. I was unemployed for months. We were eventually on food stamps and DSHS insurance.

In December 2000, we welcomed our 2nd child to the world. When "T" was born, we cried more than the baby. Couple days later, I finally landed a job as the janitor at a Barnes & Noble store. It wasn't quite what I was envisioning but God really worked through this "valley season." And we finally felt peace about starting Quest. Seven people gathered in our living room and several months later on October 2001, Quest Church was officially launched. 
It has not been easy. We've been hurt and worse, we learned we hurt people. More accurately, I hurt people. We've heard our share of criticisms and sometimes, even worse. I've been called my share of names. Too many to list. I've been too liberal, too conservative, too edgy, too rigid, too blunt, too passive. We spent many nights crying out to the Lord...for direction, for peace, for answers. We usually never got the answers we were wanting...but we always felt His presence - even during our valleys. To be honest, we still have many restless nights. In fact, I think we have had more restless nights these past two years than we did in the first two years. 
But through it all. God has been so faithful and gracious. Thank you, Lord. The good ol' days when I just wanted to make music. My kids have no idea how coooooooool I was. #OriginalMacPowell

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