O God, grant me these two things, and then I will be able to face you. Remove your heavy hand from me, and don’t terrify me with your awesome presence. Now summon me, and I will answer! Or let me speak to you, and you reply. Tell me, what have I done wrong? Show me my rebellion and my sin. Why do you turn away from me? Why do you treat me as your enemy? Would you terrify a leaf blown by the wind? Would you chase dry straw? – Job 13:20-25 (NLT)
Last week, the Las Vegas police issued their final report on last year’s mass shooting.
The man who committed the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history when he opened fire from his Las Vegas high-rise hotel room had no clear motive, Las Vegas police said as they announced Friday that they had concluded their 10-month investigation…But, he said, “we have not been able to definitively answer the ‘why.’”
The release of the report was meant to offer some closure to a city shaken by such an enormous tragedy. But at the news conference, Sheriff Lombardo said he knew the danger of another massacre lingered. “Absolutely, it could happen again,” he said. “By the grace of God it doesn’t.”
The police have a lot of facts but no answers. Even though this is what we should have expected, it’s not what we wanted to hear. What we want in the face of tragedy is an answer. We demand to know why.
But we don’t want to know why because it brings closure or healing.
We want to know why because it gives us power.
If we knew why the gunman opened fire on a crowd of people he didn’t know, then we could keep it from happening to us. If the people had done something wrong, we would know who to blame. And we could make sure we didn’t do the same. We could make sure it doesn’t happen to us or those we love.
But life’s most difficult and painful questions don’t have answers. And life doesn’t have any guarantees.
In our humanity, we rail against these truths. Like Job, we place the guilt on God because there must be a reason why horrible things happen.
But sometimes, there’s not.
Most of the time, there’s not.
In God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me? – Psalm 56:11 (NRSV)
The freedom we have as people of God is to not live in fear. Like Job, we have the freedom to rail against God for the things that are not our fault and we don’t understand. And in this freedom, somehow, we are able to find peace in our not knowing.The freedom we have as people of God is to not live in fear - the freedom to rail against God for the things that are not our fault and we don’t understand. In this freedom, somehow, we are able to find peace in our not knowing. Click To Tweet
I wrote last year about the goodness of God in the face of suffering.
Sure of God’s goodness, does this goodness erode when we are faced with the horrible? This is the true crisis of faith for a believer as we try to reconcile what we think (and want to) believe with the reality of our life. I don’t think I can answer the because I haven’t had a miracle transformed in this way.
Instead, I ask the question, “Can suffering be wiped out by a miracle?” I know the answer is no. Yesterday’s suffering is still real and lasting even in the face of today’s miracle. Our pain is not erased, rendered unimportant or unreal, when faced with God’s grace. This may really be what the goodness and love of God is.
The Las Vegas police report confirmed that we are not in control despite how desperately we want to be. It is one of our greatest acts of faith to hand our fear to God and finally accept that we are not in control.
Therefore, let us turn to God in prayer when faced with fear and the unknown, trusting that in life and death, we belong to God (written last year after the shooting and in the onslaught of hurricanes).
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.(Psalm 46:1-3)
God our refuge, we are almost to the point of being overwhelmed by the shaking earth and the roaring seas. The devastation of hurricanes, earthquakes, and wild fires continues to be revealed. We cannot comprehend the trauma that continues as people continue to dig through rubble, remove trash from the flood-soaked homes, return to scorched earth, and struggle with the loss or scarcity of the most basic necessities of life. Necessities that we can so easily take for granted. We pray that your power would strengthen both victims and responders. We pray that your presence would be heavy in the midst of trouble. May people experience:
a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. (4-5)
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; God utters a holy voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (6-7)
We contemplate your promise of refuge in silence.
Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations God has brought on the earth. God makes wars cease to the end of the earth; breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; burns the shields with fire. (8-9)
Jesus, prince of peace, we pray for the day when you destroy war and violence. But this morning, that day seems far away. Wars and rumors of wars fill every news cycle. We once again stand silent in the face of a mass shooting. It seems that it is humanity itself that breaks and shatters. Once again, we are overwhelmed by the terror of such violence. Once again, we feel frozen by both our grief and our guilt. Once again, we wonder if there is hope. O God of the ages, what words do you have for us?
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
We contemplate your holy presence in silence.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (11)
May chaos be replaced with calm as we become still in your presence.
May fear be replaced with hope as we trust in your refuge.
May peace come upon the earth.
In anticipation of the day when violence and destruction will be no more… Amen.
For more more prayers on the reality of life and faith, I hope you consider checking out my new book:
Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for WorshipPrayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.