I woke up this morning to Facebook posts about the 50+ people dead and the 200+ people injured in Las Vegas with pleas of, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Eager to know what in the world happened, I opened the Fox News app on my iPhone and read the details of what had happened. As the day has progressed, I’ve read Tweets and Facebook posts expressing anger at the supposed lack of gun control laws as well as anger towards the NRA. Throughout the day, the posts shifted from empathy for the victims to politicising the tragedy as an opportunity to push forward one’s political agenda. Whilst the world is preoccupied with using last night’s events to politicise the tragedy, what ought the Church’s response be in this midst of turmoil and evil?
My pastoral answer: nothing short of proclaiming the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins and the hope we have in Christ for the world that is to come for God’s children as citizens of His kingdom. Before I move to the subject of proclaiming the Gospel to the survivors of this tragedy, I want to focus first on those who are angry about the situation.
For Sympathisers Who Are Angry
First of all, it is right to be angry. Be angry at the evil that was done. Be angry on behalf of these poor victims. Furthermore, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Again, it is right to be angry, but do not let it give an opportunity for sin. What this precisely looks like varies from one person to another, and my aim is not to make a list of what this might look like. Rather, I want to supply a Gospel message for those who are rightly angry.
This leads me to my second point for those who are angry: Recognise your indignation, but before you begin to react in that anger and use the tragedy as an opportunity to politicise it, slow down, stop, and pray. For this, I recommend you take a long, comtemplative reflection on Psalm 37:7-15, 39-40:
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.
Before I continue, I want to make clear that the Psalms are meant for God’s people. As such, the message contained within this article is intended for God’s people, but the message can certainly be appropriately adjusted to minister to unbelieving survivors and sympathisers.
Anyway, while this psalm was written in a particular context addressing specific circumstances, we can nonetheless pray this psalm in the midst of the evil that persists in our lives today. While the circumstances surrounding this psalm differ widely from today, the trust in God that the psalmist bounds himself to is an eternal truth, as is the perpetuity of evildoers (at least on this side of the eschaton).
The psalmist beckons not to worry about evildoers and, as much as we can, to refrain from anger. Why is this? He reminds us with the juxtaposition: “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” For David, this was more likely an immediate hope for deliverance from his military enemies, which he experienced numerous times, but it also speaks to the eternal hope we have in Christ. Paul summarises this hope we have in Christ best in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10:
This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Paul makes it irrevocably clear that at Jesus’ return, the evil will be destroyed and His saints will be delivered! Therefore, do not dwell in anger, David says, because it only gives an opportunity for more evil! Yes, be angry, but do not dwell in it for long, for we have the eternal hope in our Lord that at His glorious return He will accomplish God’s vengeance on our behalf and the final culmination of the salvation of our souls.
Therefore, instead of yelling about gun control laws, let us rather pray for the victims: Almighty God, merciful Lord, be gracious to the families of the deceased and survivors of the Las Vegas massacre, whose lives have been tragically ended or injured. Comfort their families, and comfort the survivors, in their grief, deliver them from anger, and sustain them with the knowledge that they are upheld by Your everlasting arms. Grant them Your Holy Spirit that they may meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience, and with the hope of the glorious resurrection and a blessed reunion in heaven with those they love who have departed in the faith; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For the Survivors
The hope in Christ I wrote for angry sympathisers above applies equally to survivors. The message above can certainly be proclaimed to survivors, but there is another focus I want us to look at. I think it would be right to pray Psalm 140 with them:
Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me. I say to the LORD, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD! O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot or they will be exalted!
The Las Vegas massacre is unspeakably evil. As a survivor, you may be so angry and/or depressed that you don’t know what to pray for. Indeed, you might not even want to pray. I don’t blame you. Yet even when we don’t want to pray or don’t know how to pray, it is still important for us to do so. Not only does the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf when we cannot find the words (Romans 8:26), but we also have the Psalms as the literal prayer book of the Bible. This is why I think Psalm 140 is particularly helpful for survivors, and even for angry sympathisers. There is nothing wrong with coming before God and crying out before Him.
I think our understanding of prayer is often one of being an expectation of showing our poetic creativity before God—we have to say the right words in the most beautiful, right way with clever metaphors in order for it to be a “good” prayer. While there certainly are beautiful prayers out there, and some people may even “pray better” than we can (whatever that means), that’s not what prayer is about. Prayer is not about sounding eloquent before God. The effectiveness of prayer does not depend on its eloquence. Indeed, prayer does not depend on us but on the will of God (Matthew 6:10).
Prayer, I believe, is accepting Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). What better way is there to come to Jesus to find rest when we are heavy laden than in prayer? If you need to come before Jesus in prayer and just yell—just cry out to Him—then do it! Lay out your burdens before Him, yell if you need to, even cry if you need to.
No amount of words I tell you about the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be enough to give you peace and comfort. That ultimately comes from the Lord. Hearing the Gospel proclaimed might be enough for one, but for another they may need to literally cry out to God. If this is you, do it.
If you’re a sympathiser for these survivors, I believe it is certainly important to proclaim the Gospel, but beyond that is being with them. It is not enough, I think, to simply proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness of sins and the eternal hope we have in Christ and then leave. Rather, with the proclamation of the Gospel comes ongoing relationship. My favourite Beatitude that I believe captures well the type of citizens we are in God’s kingdom is, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). How can we comfort those who mourn if we merely proclaim the Gospel but do not actually take the time to be with them?
What this looks like is setting aside significant time to sit with them, proclaim the Gospel, pray with them, and have these tough conversations with them about suffering and evil. You don’t have to have all the answers. Being with them is what matters most. If you want to give them satisfactory answers to their tough questions, talk to your pastor. Heck, even put them in contact with your pastor.
Being Realistic about Suffering
There is certainly a lot more to be said about how we can proclaim the Gospel within this particular context of suffering. There’s a lot more I could have covered, but time and attention span only allows for so much to be said. If you have any thoughts on how we can proclaim the Gospel to these people in suffering, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I’m more than willing to hear them. But before I end this article, I do want to say something about the reality of suffering.
Whilst we certainly have our eternal hope in Christ, as Christians we also have to be realistic about suffering. Paul gives us a reminder of both our inevitable suffering and the hope we have in Christ in spite of it: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). It may not seem like it now, but for the Christian the glory to be revealed in Christ far outweighs any suffering we currently experience and will experience. This is not to ignore the severity and horror of the Las Vegas massacre, but to serve as yet another reminder that our suffering is temporary and the glory of Christ we have yet to see is eternal. In a world tainted with sin, suffering is inevitable, and even more so for believers (see John 16:33).
Peter also gives a reminder for Christians: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Perhaps thinking on Jesus’ words recorded in John 16:33, Peter is also realistic about suffering. Suffering should not be strange to Christians; it is to be expected. We don’t want to ignore the ramifications of our suffering and the suffering of others, but it is wise to remember the inevitability of suffering in a sinful world as well as in the lives of Christians. Yet suffering is not the end. The end for Christians is the glory of Christ to be revealed on the Day of the Lord. Just as Christ suffered, so we as Christians share in His suffering, but Christ is also the end of all suffering on the Day His glory is to be revealed.
Therefore, instead of being angry and giving an opportunity to do evil, let us rather, in our sympathy, use our sympathy as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness and our eternal hope in Christ. Furthermore, let us pray: Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts, and Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom You have permitted this disastrous massacre to befall us. Keep its survivors and all of us from despair and do not let our faith fail us, but sustain and comfort us. Direct all efforts to attend the injured, console the bereaved, and protect the helpless. Deliver any who are still in danger, and bring hope and healing that we may find relief and restoration; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.