The Sandy Hook School Massacre
Sorrow. Disbelief. Confusion. Shock. Anger. Deep, inconsolable mourning. Our nation was rocked once again by an act of evil that everyone dreads to hear - the senseless killing of 26 lives by a lost, broken soul killing defenseless children and teachers in a rampage of rage.
Why? How can such things happen? Where is God in the midst of such insanity? How do we respond to another mass murder in our country? Is anyone safe anymore? Many deep and heart-wrenching questions. So many people are wondering and asking these difficult questions, and of course, it’s OK to ask these questions of God as we seek comfort and understanding from the Almighty.
If we turn to the Bible, we can find the Book of Job which deals with evil, unjust suffering, and tragedy. The Old Testament figure of Job asks “Why?” many times, along with more than 330 other questions in his 42 chapters. Job was a righteous and God-fearing man, who endured tragedy after tragedy? First, all his children die in a terrible accident. Then he loses all his wealth and possessions. Finally, a painful illness ravages his body. “Why is this happening?” Job shouts out. “Where is God in the midst of my suffering?”
From the time of Job until today, the Judeo-Christian tradition has proclaimed an important message when confronted with unexpected suffering and inexplicable evil. A saintly bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos, summarized our attitude in his words: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.”
Such a painful tragedy as Sandy Hook is surely one of life’s greatest mysteries that no one can fully understand. Why does someone kill innocent children? How does such evil intent grow in the heart of a 20 year old man? What has our society done to cultivate such hatred, anger, evil, pain and hurt? Each question, though, is a deep mystery with which we may not find clear answers, yet we know that we have to live through this mystery with faith and hope.
Christians recently celebrated Christmas, a celebration of God becoming human and taking on our human condition. This celebration is helpful to understanding such tragedies. God knows the evil of the world better than anyone else. When He was born in a humble manger in Bethlehem, a crazy king felt threatened and sent his soldiers to murder all the children of that region. In other words, from the moment of God’s entrance as a human into the world, He encountered terrible evil first hand. Imagine, Jesus grew up and surely heard about the murder of innocent babies linked to His birth. As a newborn infant, the Virgin Mary and Joseph carried Jesus as a refugee, fleeing from evil into Egypt. And although Jesus seemed to have a peaceful life growing up in the town of Nazareth, He still lived as a Jew under foreign injustice and oppression. Then as an adult, when Christ began preaching, healing and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand, once again the powers of the world threatened, persecuted and eventually committed the greatest evil of all – unjustly crucifying and killing the Son of God Himself.
Reflecting on the life of Christ, we know that God is a God who understands better than anyone the mystery of evil and suffering in the world. He took upon Himself the worst evil could do to Him, willingly accepting suffering and death itself, so that he could overcome it!
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was originally a cry by David in the Old Testament. He begins Psalm 22 with these words of despair and doubt, yet concludes with the words “Those who seek the Lord will praise Him.” He knows that even in the darkest hour, God is present and will prevail.
Jesus repeated this same cry when he was crucified on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet in that moment of ultimate suffering, when He confronted the most horrible form of evil – the mystery of death itself – He used the evil action to carry the sins of the world on His shoulders, opening a new path for humankind. He destroyed death by His own death and opened the gates of paradise to all people. We must always remember, though, that His victory came through experiencing evil and unjust suffering! Our Lord answers the questions revolving around evil, not with trite explanations, but with His own example of tasting and overcoming it.
No one can fully understand the mysteries of life, especially in relation to the tragic events of Sandy Hook, yet we go forward with hope and assurance of God’s presence and ultimate victory over evil. “I will be with you always,” Jesus promised, “even to the end of the age.” Thus, facing the mysteries of life with faith in Christ, we can turn a tragic, senseless event into a meaningful journey further into the Kingdom of God.
This helps us respond to the question “Why did this happen?” We quietly and humbly answer “It’s a mystery we can’t explain, yet we live through this painful mystery with faith and hope!” In this way, we direct people to a different question, much more important than asking “why?” “What should we do? How do we go forward?”
In times like this, we must reach out in compassion and love to those traumatized, those in mourning, those in despair, those in fear. Our faith compels us to become instruments of God’s love, hope and peace, as we reach out to whoever is hurting – from the families of the victims, to the traumatized children and students, as well as to the family members of the murderer himself. We keep each of these people in our prayers, asking for God’s comforting grace to come upon them all, and given the opportunity to be present among the suffering, by offering His love and compassion in the most concrete of ways.
As we pray for and remember the souls of the deceased, and comfort those in mourning, we also use this tragedy to reflect upon an even more sober perspective. Whether it is Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Nickel Mines, Colombine, or many other instances of violence and evil in our country and throughout the world, we need to ponder upon these events in a repentant manner. We think of Adam Lanza as a deeply disturbed young man who gave in to evil. Many want to believe that such insanity and evil have nothing to do with themselves. Yet, the Orthodox Christian perspective reminds us that “There go I but by the grace of God.”
The great Russian writer Dostoievski reminds us of this Orthodox perspective in his book The Brothers Karamazov. “The criminal in your community may be less guilty for his crime than you, his Christian neighbor. For you could have been a light to the evil doer, yet you were not. For the man remained beside you in darkness. Had you been the kind of example you ought to have been and allowed your light to shine on that lost man’s path, perhaps he might not have stumbled into his crime. If you had loved your neighbor as yourself and lavished upon him some of the care you generously lavish upon yourself, shared some of the warmth God has privileged you to possess, that criminal might have changed in time.”
Are we reaching out to the Adam Lanzases around us? The Bible teaches us that we are our brother’s keeper. When we see people on the fringe of society - loners, the mentally ill, those in despair and darkness – do we reach out in love to them? Are we outlets of light and hope in this dark world?
Finally, as we reflect on this tragedy, some may wonder whether anyone is safe anymore. We live in a world that witnesses one violent tragedy after another. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Nickel Mines. Colombine. 9/11 and the rise of worldwide terror. Evil and disaster come in many forms, including natural disasters. We live in a very uncertain world, which can cause stress, worry and fear. Yet we believe God is with us, and if we are with Him, abiding in His love, and taking shelter daily under His comforting shadow, than we never have reason to worry or fear about anything. The Lord will walk with us through each valley of the shadow of death, protecting us, comforting us, and guiding us into His eternal kingdom.
Sandy Hook is a national tragedy that we will not soon forget. It has become a part of a growing list of infamous events in our country’s history. Let us view this tragic mystery through the prism of faith – with love and compassion for those in pain, with mercy and forgiveness for those filled with anger, with repentance for our own participation in this evil, and with a comfort of hope and divine security for those who fear the future.
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a divine mystery to be lived.
Facing Our Uncertain Future
What Is Reality?
Our Orthodox Faith