Everything Has Changed

January 28th, 2013

Many people across the country uttered the words above after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of twenty children and six adults. Never before had so many, so young been taken from their families in a school that had security measures in place. As those who lost loved ones lived through the shock and grief, unable to comprehend the scope of all that had occurred, the country also struggled with the questions that follow any tragedy of this magnitude: “Why?” and “How?” Images of the grieving parents moved parents everywhere to hold their children closer and to seek comfort and certainty anywhere they could find it—through their faith, clergy, family, friends, churches, and the Scriptures.

In the days following, it was as if the wind had been kicked out of our nation and few people knew what to say or do. Discussions about gun control were rampant: Should we enforce greater restrictions on guns? Should we ban firearms altogether? Is increased security at schools the answer, or even feasible? The topic of mental health also surfaced: How can we improve access to mental health services to prevent future tragedies? At the same time pundits tried to assign blame other factors, including violent videogames, television shows, and movies.

The Question of Violence

Now, over a month later, has anything truly changed? Every day, in cities, towns, and rural areas throughout the United States, people are killed in violent ways. While it seems as though violence is increasing, the FBI’s October “2011 Crime Statistics” report that in 2011 the number of violent crimes declined for the fifth consecutive year. Still, there were more than 1,200,000 violent crimes. That’s almost 3,300 per day.

One tough question for many Christians is: “How can a loving God allow such violence to continue?” A better question (and perhaps the question that God asks us) is: “How can we allow such violence to continue?”

God grants us free will. And while there is no shortage of examples of humans using that freedom to serve God and others, we also have often used our free will in sinful ways, bringing evil, violence, suffering, and death to our world. Though all of us have “sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23), we are accountable for our actions and we don’t have to let sin define us. As Christians we are called to follow Christ’s example. This means, among other things, not advocating violence and standing with those who are victims of violence.

The Answer of Love

We do not understand why some people choose evil over good. We can react to violence with anger and point fingers at all the things that are wrong with our society; but that will not change anything. In a letter to believers in the Greek city of Corinth Paul wrote, “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12b-13, NRSV). We do not know and we cannot know anything fully while we are on this earth, but we can hold onto and live as people of love, faith, and hope.

Shortly after the Newtown tragedy a movement began on Twitter called #26ActsofKindness. Individuals have tweeted 26 acts of kindness, one for each person killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, encouraging others to do the same, paying it forward. We can respond to the fact that everything has changed in our world by changing ourselves, taking responsibility for our sins and seeking repentance, God’s forgiveness, and guidance. We can be a positive presence in other peoples’ lives, offering love, faith, and hope to those who are alone, bullied, ignored, or who suffer or grieve. Responding to violence with love and compassion spreads the light of God’s grace and changes everything.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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