I was all fired up today about some stupid comments Rob Parker made on ESPN’s First Take about Robert Griffin not being “black enough” for his tastes. Really torqued me. Then, I read that a man went into a Connecticut elementary school and killed at least 26 people, at least 18 of whom were children. Kinda puts stupid comments about sports into perspective, doesn’t it?
Obviously, twitter and Facebook have lit up on the topic – that is what social media are all about. We pronounce our outrage and grief. I do not intend to say much about the Connecticut tragedy – not today anyway. Coverage can be found here. My concern today is more theoretical, having read a smattering of social media responses from Christian friends.
However, we need to be careful when we respond to things like this. As Christians, we have a responsibility to express our outrage and grief in such a way as to bring glory to God and advance the cause of Christ. I would offer the following observations.
1) Be careful about using tragedies to trumpet your message.
This was an unspeakably evil act. There are 26 families and an entire community in shock, anger and grief. This is not the time to make your political and theological point using this tragedy to buttress your logic. Yes, this is a wicked world and people need Jesus badly. But we ought not use this as a means of bashing our political or theological opponents or of making some point about our beliefs.
It won’t be long before the gun control crowd begins a new round of calls for limits on weapons, based on this tragedy, and conservatives who prize their second amendment liberties will decry that opportunism. If opportunism by those you oppose is wrong, it is just as wrong for causes you support.
This is about dead children and grieving families, not about making whatever point you want to make.
2) Be slow to speak.
How often have people jumped the gun and then later found that their immediate proclamations were false? Remember Richard Jewell? We should be very slow to make broad declarations as if we know the facts when we do not.
Express grief. Promise prayer. But avoid declarations until all the facts are settled.
3) Do not try to explain the unexplainable.
God is sovereign and he is good. But there are times when we simply do not and cannot understand him. Why would God allow this? Why?
There is an answer to that question – a biblical one. “I don’t know and neither do you.”
Job’s life was ravaged by Satan with the permission of God. He struggled to understand why it happened, lashing out at his friends and God in the process. How could God have been so cruel? We know that God had a cosmic purpose, but Job did not know this and never found out. Job learned what we need to learn – to trust a God we do not understand. Habakkuk could not understand why God did what he did, but he learned to stand in awe of the sovereign God.
When we give easy, simple answers to difficult questions about evil and its effects, we generally end up doing more harm than good. That was the mistake that Job’s friends made.
We believe in a sovereign God, but we do not always understand his purposes and should not act as if we do.
4) What do you say?
What do we say in a time like this? In my opinion, as little as possible. Acknowledge the horror of the tragedy. Communicate grief and concern; express sympathy and support to the hurting, wounded and grieving. We need to avoid acting as if we have the divine playbook or using the tragedy to forward our purposes.
The best thing to do in times of grief and hurt is to express genuine sympathy, to be there and to give what support we can. Everything else can wait until the crisis passes.
5) Christians talking to Christians can seem really strange to non-Christians.
There are things we understand and believe that the world views as crazy, even offensive. Some Christian political candidates have run up against that when they said things that we all believe but were seen as scandalous in the secular world.
In social media, we need to be aware of how our statements will appear to our friends and family who do not know Jesus. We can sometimes come across as arrogant know-it-alls who are more interested in sound bites than in serious thought.
We need to fight that. Yes, our duty is to see things through a gospel filter and exalt Christ in everything. But sometimes our pithy statements, well-intended by us, serve to create anger and disdain in the world instead of leading people toward Christ.
Tragedies like this are hard on us. We want to fix things. Sometimes, we have to realize we are living in a broken world and seek to be agents of healing in that world.